In a new study, researchers found that doctors currently have a new way to reduce their patients’ need for strong opioid medications after surgery.
They can pre-treat patients with other pain relievers before they even enter the operating room.
The research was reported by scientists from the University of Southern California.
While opioids relieve patients’ pain and suffering, between 8% and 12% of those who take these drugs develop an opioid use disorder.
It is important to tackle the crisis at one of its sources: the doctors who prescribe the drugs.
One method is to reduce the need for narcotics among patients undergoing operations.
According to Keck Medicine anesthesiologist Michael Kim, the best way to reduce opioid misuse is to avoid using them in the first place.
The researcher and his colleagues lead Keck Medicine’s Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program, which is a slate of nationally recognized practices that help patients recover well while simultaneously reducing the need for opioid medication.
The program has got very promising results: Some surgical groups at Keck Medicine have slashed their opioid usage by 50 to 80% over the past year through ERAS.
USC researchers suggest that starting with non-opioid pain medication is the first step to prevent opioid addition.
Following a non-opioid pain medication protocol may improve patient outcomes and speed up recovery.
They explain that pre-treat the pain before surgery can help reduce pain felt after the surgery.
Patients do better when they know what to expect, especially when pain is involved.
It is important for them to know their projected length of hospital stay, their expected level of pain and how long it will take to get back to their usual activities.
Moreover, doctors treat patients with non-narcotic pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), gabapentin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, for up to three days before surgery.
They also educate patients to drink sufficient fluids, eat a healthy diet, exercise and avoid alcohol and smoking before surgery.
Usually, patients will need fewer medications during the procedure and doctors can use local pain blocks to help minimize pain during and after surgery to help relieve pain.
Patients begin a regimen of non-opioid pain medication around the clock to help them meet targeted milestones after surgery.
In addition, each patient gets a goal sheet with specific guidelines for when they should drink, eat and start moving.
In this way, patients can recover quickly and go home without exposure to potentially addictive medications.
The researchers also found that patients with ERAS become alert, awake, comfortable and moving around within a few hours of surgery.
They had lower opioid use, the lower rate of postoperative complications and readmissions, lower hospital stays by up to 21%, lower needs in care and higher satisfaction.
The team believes the program is successful because health care professionals have come together as a team to deliver this incredible care.
They hope it can help fight the opioid epidemic from the front end.
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