Doctors turn to opioid alternatives for pain relief

There has been a major push in the medical world to find alternatives to opioids amid the nationwide epidemic.

Many people first become addicted to the power of painkillers during surgery and recovery, but now, doctors are looking to alternative methods to relieve pain and help patients.

In March 2021, Jonathan Akinrele underwent weight loss surgery, dropping 130 pounds.

Akinrele was one of more than 150 patients to undergo what’s known as opioid-sparing surgery or Enhanced Recovery performed by doctors at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore. 

"We give you medication both preoperatively and post-operatively including strong anti-inflammatory medication and local anesthetics that last for up to three days," said Dr. David Pechman, a bariatric surgeon with South Shore University Hospital. 

Doctors say it’s similar to any minimally invasive surgery but avoids the use of opiates during recovery.

"The idea is if we could turn down the nerve endings in the operated area before they become excited, the centers of the brain that receive the pulse is never become as excited," said Dr. Don DeCrosta, Chairman with the Dept. of Anesthesiology at South Shore University Hospital. 

According to doctors at South Shore University, the addiction rate in patients receiving elective surgery who have never taken opioids is about 3 to 4% but for weight loss surgery the addiction rate jumps up to 10%.

"Patients who have had weight-loss surgery who can no longer eat the quantity of food they did in the past shift their focus to other things such as drugs or alcohol," said Dr. Dominick Gadaleta, Chairman of Surgery at South Shore University Hospital. 

Drug experts believe any alternative to prescription opioids is a step in the right direction. 

"It means that folks who would get this procedure no longer have to worry about bringing opioids into their homes where their kids or other folks can abuse them and for folks who may have a predisposition to opioid addiction it means eliminating the risk from the equation," said Dr. Jeff Reynolds, president and CEO of Family & Children’s Association. 

The opiate-free surgical program also shortens the length of recovery and hospital stays by up to 75-percent.