By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– Over the past year, America’s struggle with the growing opioid epidemic has swept national and local headlines. New reports estimate 78 people die every day in the U.S. from overuse of opioids.1 To help drive positive change and limit opioid exposure here in California, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a new law requiring doctors to check a patient’s prescription history before prescribing opioids or other potentially dangerous drugs.
As a practicing orthopedic surgeon and Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, I am all too aware of the delicate balance needed to not only manage my patients’ pain after surgery, but also protect them from overexposure to potentially harmful painkillers. While the use of opioids to manage chronic pain is well-documented and often covered by the media, many people fail to realize that surgery can be an unintentional gateway to long-term safety risks. In fact, new research shows that one-in-10 patients who were prescribed an opioid after surgery report becoming addicted to or dependent on the drug.
Opioids have long been recognized as the gold standard for managing surgical pain. Many providers hold them in this regard, despite risks and the fact that opioid-related side effects can prolong hospital stays and delay recovery. However, there are now very effective non-opioid treatment options that can minimize, or even eliminate, postsurgical opioid exposure. I have experienced this first-hand in my own practice by using a long-acting, non-opioid option called EXPAREL that is injected during surgery. Utilization of this alternative has helped me provide my patients with effective, long-lasting pain control with a dramatic decrease in the need for opioids. By using EXPAREL I’m able to get my total knee replacement patients home in less than two days. Moreover, this medication has allowed me to perform opioid-free hip fracture procedures, which has truly been a game changer for my elderly patients, who are particularly at risk of experiencing debilitating and dangerous opioid-related side effects like confusion, breathing challenges, and falls.
I encourage patients to speak to their doctors about non-opioid alternatives. It’s imperative that we begin to think differently about postsurgical pain management and promote the use of non-opioid alternatives whenever appropriate. Medications like EXPAREL can provide better patient outcomes without compromising care. For the sake of patients, their caregivers and our community – it’s time we make opioids the last resort instead of the first.