Opioids and the OR: Seeking Alternatives in Anesthesia

Written by: Alex Battey, Esq.

Anesthesia professionals often find themselves on the front lines of the ongoing fight against opioid addiction. Whether in the subspecialty of pain management or through their treatment of post-surgical patients, physicians and nurse anesthetists are often faced with the difficult taks of balancing the need for effective pain control measures with the patient’s risk for, or history of, opioid abuse.

Some providers are exploring the use of regional anesthesia, in which nerve blocks are implemented to delivery non-opioid, long-acting numbing medication directly to nerves affected by certain surgical procedures in the days immediately following surgery. Anesthesiologists implementing these techniques in orthopedic surgeries have reported shorter hospital stays as the patients are able to move around sooner following surgery. Providers have also had success limiting the need for post-surgical opioids by utilizing doses of IV acetaminophen or ibuprofen on the day of surgery.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists have also recently advocated a multimodal pain management approach in which a variety of pain treatment options are explored including regional anesthesia, peripheral nerve blocks, non-pharmacological holistic approaches and non-opioid based pharmacologic measures. The AANA acknowledges that appropriate opioid prescriptions may be necessary in the evaluation and treatment of acute pain; however, varied approaches to pain management may help both patients and providers avoid the risks associated with opioid use.

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