MSU nursing professor's research cited in Time magazine story about opioid crisis

Thursday Jul. 11th, 2019

A recent article about solutions to the national opioid crisis that appeared in Time magazine featured the work of Montana State University nursing professor and health care economist Peter Buerhaus.

The piece, “One Possible Solution to the Opioid Crisis in the U.S. Has Been Inexplicably Ignored,” was published online June 24 as part of the Time Ideas series. It was written by Tommy Thompson, who served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 2001 to 2005 and as the 42nd governor of Wisconsin, and David Hebert, CEO of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

The authors noted that a new report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors on how to “beat back America’s opioid crisis” highlighted as potential solutions measures like curbing illicit drug trafficking, reducing over-prescribing in doctors’ offices and cracking down on drug distributors fueling the epidemic for profit. However, they wrote that one measure was missing from the report: nurse practitioners.

Primary care professionals serve on the front lines of the opioid crisis, Thompson and Hebert wrote, but there is a severe shortage of such professionals across the country, particularly in rural areas. They noted that currently, nearly 80% of Americans addicted to opioids aren’t receiving treatment.

“Without access to primary care professionals, addicted patients struggle to receive the care they need,” they wrote.

To address the shortage of primary care professionals, Thompson and Hebert suggest turning to nurse practitioners. And they pointed to Buerhaus’ research showing that nurse practitioners could make a significant difference.

“Between 2016 and 2030, the number of (nurse practitioners) in the workforce is projected to grow by 6.8% annually, according to a study from Peter Buerhaus, a healthcare economist and professor of nursing at Montana State University,” they wrote. “The report also found that these (nurse practitioners) will be far more likely to practice in rural and underserved regions.”

The authors add that, although some states limit where and how nurse practitioners can practice, studies have shown that nurse practitioners provide care that’s just as good as—and sometimes better than—physicians.

“Empowering nurse practitioners to treat addiction—and removing unnecessary restrictions at the state level—can go a long way in liberating American patients,” Thompson and Hebert concluded.

Buerhaus is well-known for his studies and publications on the nursing and physician workforces in the United States. Some of his research indicates that nurse practitioners are more likely than medical doctors to practice in rural areas and that people living in rural areas tend to have the least access to a primary care clinician (primary care doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants).

Buerhaus is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and, in 2010, was appointed chairman of the National Health Care Workforce Commission. The commission was created under the Affordable Care Act to advise Congress and the administration on health workforce policy.

In addition to his work as a professor, Buerhaus also serves as director of the MSU Center for Interdisciplinary Health Workforce Studies.

The full story is available at