Fifty million Americans have surgery each year. Approximately 2 million of these surgical patients will develop persistent opioid use (meaning they continue to use opioids 90–180 days after surgery). For far too many people, surgery is a critical gateway to the tragedy of opioid addiction.
As a practicing anesthesiologist, I’ve been administering opioids for 20 years to patients under my care. That’s how I was trained. Surgery is painful, so opioid medications have long been a standard part of anesthesia practice. Despite advances in pain management alternatives, most surgical patients are still administered opioids during surgery and immediately after surgery and are prescribed opioid medication to take in the days and weeks following surgery.
This is a story of how our team helped break the cycle of unnecessary opioid prescribing at a surgery center and decreased patient exposure from 85 percent to zero. Our goal was to develop anesthesia and surgical protocols that enable patients to go through surgery with minimal or no exposure to opioids while effectively treating their post-operative pain.