Doctors, patients move away from opioids for surgical pain relief

Author: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

One in five people who have been prescribed opioids to manage pain from surgery find themselves struggling to stop taking the drugs long after their physical recovery. There’s now a shift away from opioid painkillers after a procedure, as doctors and patients work out how else to prepare for pain relief before, during and after surgery.

Dr. Michelle Humeidan, an anesthesiologist and pain management expert at Ohio State University puts total joint replacements, tummy tucks and lung surgeries at the top of her list of “very painful procedures,” but any surgery can be painful to recover from. Humeidan is leading an initiative to minimize opioids for pain relief. She says patients should start preparing before surgery by taking acetaminophen at home.

“We kind of load that up in the system in the day or so before surgery, and then that helps us have to give less opiates for their pain control,” Humeidan said.

During surgery, doctors use numbing medicine that blocks the pain transmission to the brain and spinal cord. After surgery, patients can take over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and use an anesthetic patch, like lidocaine.

“Other types of interventions like heat, ice, elevation, those types of things… those can’t be underestimated,” Humeidan said.

Humeidan says data shows non-opioid pain management results in less nausea and shorter hospital stays.

“We used to have patients that would require an overnight stay or two that are going home now after surgery,” Humeidan said.

Humeidan says hospital data shows a 50% reduction in opioid pain medication use among hospitalized patients, and that reduction remains consistent for patients as they recover at home. She says while opiates do have their role, it’s important that they be used as a backup instead of first-line treatment.

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