America’s opioid epidemic is fueled by the rampant overprescription of painkillers, stemming from fraudulent claims that the medications wouldn’t be addictive in a clinical application. Worldwide, the use of opioid analgesics more than doubled between the years of 2001 and 2013. Unfortunately, using opioids for short-term (acute) pain management is associated with increased risk of long-term opioid use, dependency, addiction, and eventual death via overdose.
These concerns have shifted public and professional opinion about the necessity for prescription painkillers after operations. A new study shows that up to half of patients may not actually need opioid medications when recovering from a surgery.
America’s Opioid Epidemic and Post-Op Care
Lead researcher Dr. Michael Englesbe, professor of surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that this could be a game-changer for post-op care: “We think a fundamental root cause of the opioid epidemic is opioid-naïve patients getting exposed to opioids and then really struggling to stop taking them post operatively.” He continues to explain that if patients can’t taper off of their building opioid dependency, things can quickly escalate to “chronic opioid use, abuse, addiction, and overdose.”
Opioids commonly prescribed for acute, post-surgical pain include hydrocodone (Vicodin, Hysingla, Lortab), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Roxicodone), and Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic).
While the number of opioid prescriptions tapers in primary care, surgeons have actually begun writing scripts for them 18% more often over the past five years. But are these addictive pills actually necessary for surgical recovery? That’s the answer sought by Dr. Englesbe and his colleagues.
Breaking Research Reveals Opioids Unnecessary
A total of 190 patients who had recently undergone operations – gallbladder, thyrioid, sinus, prostate, hernia, or weight-loss surgery – and had never been on opioids served as the study’s participants. They were given ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and a small “rescue” dosage of opioid pain medication (oxycodone, brand name OxyContin) to take if needed.
Between one and three months after surgery, patients were asked how many opioids they took. The researchers found that over half of the patients (52%) didn’t take any opioids at all, and those who did took an average of only four pills. The average pain score, from 0 (no pain) to 3 (severe pain) for those who didn’t take the opioids was 1, and those who did take opioids ranked their pain at a 2.
Managing Post-Op Pain Without Opioids
After a major surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement, it’s likely that you’ll experience some degree of post-operative pain. If this isn’t treated properly, this can sometimes develop into chronic pain, which is why it’s vital to begin managing your discomfort the moment surgery concludes.
If you have experienced addiction, you should always be open with healthcare providers about your history. This will allow them to prescribe non-addictive alternatives to manage any pain after surgery. Many over-the-counter pain relievers, such as those used in Dr. Englesbe’s study, are all that you need to heal effectively.
Your doctor may also be able to recommend alternative, non-drug techniques to ease pain, such as heat or cold therapy. By applying heating pads and ice packs, you can dull the physical symptoms associated with surgical recovery, 100% medication-free.
In a country where opioid medications are used freely, remember that you’re your own best advocate. If you voice concerns to your physician, they should be able to create an alternative treatment plan that avoids these addictive substances completely. If they are unable to do so, don’t be afraid to seek out a second opinion. It’s important to receive the highest level of care that meets all of your needs.
Where Detox Meets Intensive Healing
Even when taken according to a physician’s guidelines, opioid medications can be insidiously addictive. Many people develop a chemical dependency without even realizing it, especially when trying to manage acute and chronic pain created by surgical procedures.
Makana Path offers a complete continuum of care for those suffering from opioid addictions, from detox to intensive healing to aftercare. Our team of experts will guide you through the transition to non-addictive pain management methods. Call 1-866-905-4550 to learn more.