10:58 AM / Sunday March 3, 2024

10 Sep 2021

Pain medicine specialists innovate to tackle America’s ongoing opioid epidemic by reducing misuse after surgery

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
September 10, 2021 Category: Health Posted by:


Drug overdose deaths broke records during 2020, and while the pandemic no doubt contributed, surgery plays an often-overlooked role in America’s ongoing opioid epidemic because many patients continue to use their prescribed opioids months after their procedures.

Pain medicine specialists are leading the way in addressing the opioid epidemic by developing strategies to reduce opioid misuse related to surgery, from helping to ease pain before the procedure to ensuring at-risk patients have access to naloxone to prevent an accidental overdose, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 soared to more than 94,000, nearly 30% more than in 2019. While the CDC notes synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the main reason for the increase, persistent opioid use after surgery can play a role and physician anesthesiologists have been working to address the issue.

“Even if patients don’t take opioids before surgery, many continue to use them for months after surgery, increasing the risk for overdosing accidentally,” said David Dickerson, M.D., pain medicine specialist and chair of ASA’s Committee on Pain Medicine. “The bottom line is it’s never too early to involve a pain medicine specialist.”

Here are three ways physician anesthesiologists, who are experts in pain medicine, are innovating to help address the opioid crisis:

Prescribing prehabilitation

Just as rehabilitation after surgery helps patients regain function and improve quality of life, prehabilitation can ensure some patients are better prepared and healthier before surgery. During the preoperative assessment, the patient’s surgeon or physician anesthesiologist can prescribe patient-specific lifestyle changes such as exercising, reducing stress, improving diet and quitting smoking. Prehabilitation helps patients have better outcomes and sets them up for a successful recovery after the procedure, including regaining function and reducing reliance on opioids.

Managing pain before surgery

Many patients benefit from seeing a pain medicine specialist before surgery to treat pain unrelated to the reason for the surgery. This is especially helpful for patients who have chronic pain that lasts for three to six months or more. For example, a patient having a knee replacement may also be struggling with chronic back pain, increasing the risk that they’ll rely on opioids long after the surgery. Pain medicine specialists can assess pain and address it before the surgery through non-opioid alternatives (which also are being used to manage chronic pain). Some of the treatments include:

•  Peripheral nerve stimulation – In this procedure, the pain medicine specialist implants a small wire under the skin near the source of the pain to disrupt pain signals to the spine and brain. It is often used to treat chronic back pain.

•  Percutaneous interlaminar decompression – For this new treatment for spinal stenosis (narrowing of the space in the spine, a common source of back pain), the pain medicine specialist makes a small puncture in the lower back and inserts a needle to remove built-up tissue pushing on the nerves.

•  Injections or nerve blocks – Injecting local anesthetics or other medications can help short-circuit the pain at its source, whether the patient is suffering from chronic back pain or headaches.

Ensuring access to overdose medication after surgery

Patients who are prescribed opioids after surgery may be at risk of an accidental overdose. If a patient is at increased risk (for example, the patient has breathing issues or consumes alcohol or other medications that impact breathing), the patient’s surgeon or physician anesthesiologist can prescribe naloxone to have on hand. Naloxone is a lifesaving medication that can be administered to rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The ASA’s Opioid Resuscitation Guide provides an overview of the signs of an overdose.

It is important to prepare before surgery to reduce the risk of opioid overuse after the procedure. Learn more about the signs of opioid addiction, overdose and how to respond through resources from the ASA.

2021 National Recovery Month

The goal throughout September is to come together, celebrate individuals in recovery, and offer hope to those who are struggling. National Recovery Month reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.

The 2021 National Recovery Month theme, “Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every CommunityOpens In A New Window,” reminds people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone in the journey through recovery. Everyone’s journey is different, but we are all in this together. 

DDAP Twitter Chat

Save the date! Join us on Tuesday, September 14 at 2 PM for a Recovery Month Twitter Chat. For more information and for the list of chat questions view our participant guide, go to and press the ‘participant guide’ link.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News

Philly NAACP

Philadelphia NAACP News

February 18, 2024

Tweet Email Tweet Email Related Posts Philadelphia NAACP news as of Feb. 2 Philadelphia NAACP Branch News...

Color Of Money

Commentary: Carpenters Union’s apprenticeship diversity push can lead to success and job fulfilment in the construction industry

March 2, 2024

Tweet Email By Treyvon Ratcliff Hayes ABOVE PHOTO: Treyvon Ratcliff Hayes, a Philadelphia public high school graduate,...


Six tips to improve sleep quality for overall well-being

March 2, 2024

Tweet Email FAMILY FEATURES Despite a rising number of people searching for the term “sleep” in 2023,...


Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl 2024 

February 12, 2024

Tweet Email The Kansas City Chiefs narrowly beat the San Francisco 49ers, becoming the 2024 Super Bowl champions. The...

Fur Babies Rule!

Dog grooming advice to keep pets clean and healthy

March 2, 2024

Tweet Email FAMILY FEATURESRegular grooming can keep your dog looking and smelling his or her best, but...


‘Soaring’ over hills or ‘playing’ with puppies, study finds seniors enjoy virtual reality

February 23, 2024

Tweet Email By Terry Spencerassociated press POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — Retired Army Col. Farrell Patrick taught computer...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff