This post about today’s opioid epidemic is sponsored by Pacira and SheKnows Media.
In January, I was invited to a private event at BlogHer 18 Health, hosted by Pacira, makers of EXPAREL, called “The Operating Room: A Gateway to the Opioid Epidemic.” I was also invited to share what I learned in a sponsored post.
This was a very educational event – and some of what I learned was frightening. Every day, 115 lives are claimed by the opioid epidemic. As parents, we think our kids are immune but if your child has had a serious bone injury or a wisdom tooth pulled, don’t be so sure. Doctors often prescribe opioid painkillers when our kids suffer these traumas. And that’s concerning: a 2015 study by the University of Michigan showed a 33% risk of opioid misuse by adulthood for kids who were exposed in high school.
You’re probably thinking, “not here, I have a good kid.” Unfortunately, those so-called “good kids” were at a 300% higher risk! Surgery has become an inadvertent gateway to this opioid epidemic – nearly 1 in 15 patients become dependent following surgery.
Women At Risk For Opioid Abuse
Kids are not the only ones at risk. In fact, women receive twice as many opioid prescriptions as men. Opioids are also prescribed during C-sections, one of the most common surgeries, meaning many moms are at risk too. According to a recent report, women ages 35-44 undergoing knee replacement surgery had the highest rate of persistent opioid use following surgery, at 22.8%. And for women my age, the numbers are troubling. Middle age women are most at risk of dying from an opioid overdose, with women ages 40-59 being prescribed more than any other age group. Following surgery, 13% of middle age women use opioids three to six months after surgery, placing them at risk for dependence and misuse.
Fortunately, today there are safe and effective non-opioid options that doctors can use for pain management after surgery. Let’s hear what the doctors had to say about this crisis.
Doctors Openly Discuss The Opioid Epidemic
Pacira assembled a panel of three doctors at this event to discuss the opioid epidemic and what people can do to protect themselves and their families.
- Gregory Greco, a plastic surgeon, shared how leftover prescription painkillers sometimes get passed to other family members.
- Dale Misiek, an oral surgeon, was troubled that teens and young adults were exposed to opioids by such a common procedure as wisdom tooth extraction.
- Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon, discussed how “extra” pills are often diverted and misused, ending up in the wrong hands like our teens.
All three discussed how they are finding better solutions to help patients deal with pain. One of those options was using EXPAREL, a long-acting, injectable numbing medication that is opioid-free. It can control pain and limit the need for any opioids after surgery.
Traditionally, physicians and surgeons have believed that it’s their job to shield their patients from any and all pain. But Dr. Sethi now believes that pain is part of the process of recovery. “Pain may be the way to guide us to healing.” It’s clear that the opioid epidemic helped these doctors rethink their approach to pain.
The problem, though, is not just over-prescribing. Not enough patients are asking doctors about non-opioid solutions. In fact, less than one-quarter of all patients are even discussing non-opioid options with their surgeons.
Dr. Sethi told us that many patients now fear opioids, thanks to the media. Rather than be fearful, patients should also use opioid and non-opioid choices intelligently.
Dr. Misiek said that in the past, patients didn’t want to take responsibility. They wanted scripts, not over the counter solutions. Today, patients expect to be offered an alternative to opioids. Dr. Greco also said that he wants patients to have as easy a recovery as possible, which includes being cognizant and communicable. He discusses all their choices with them beforehand.
Dr. Sethi, who works with many athletes and sees serious bone and knee replacement surgeries, uses many tiers of medication to address traumatic pain. He emphasized that in his practice, early physical therapy, improving range of motion for injured limb, diet and a positive mental outlook all contribute to a sound recovery as well as proper pain management.
Education is important for patients, including the risks and benefits of their treatment, side effects, how many procedures a surgeon has done, and more. Dr. Sethi sets expectations with a patient about prescriptions and non-opioid pain management options. Thanks to the opioid epidemic and the latest options, he is taking even better care of his patients.
The Benefits of EXPAREL
All three doctors claimed they had good results lessening or eliminating opioid prescriptions by using EXPAREL. Surgeons or doctors inject the drug at the end of the procedure at the proper site. It provides long-lasting pain relief and possibly reduces an individual’s need for opioids. Dr. Greco, who has many patients who are breast cancer survivors that come for reconstructive surgery, said it has changed his practice. He now prescribes at most 2-3 Percocet post-surgery.
He also reminded us that with reconstructive breast surgery, there is more emotion to deal with. Patients have a long road ahead of them with oncology treatment and radiation. Less pain helps them have a better recovery.
Dr. Misiek now spends much more time discussing both pre-and post-op procedures and recovery with patients. He is passionate about combining different solutions to help his patients avoid opioids, including over the counter drugs and even alternative methods of pain management, such as acupuncture. However, medication is more likely to be covered by insurance.
Dr. Sethi said that EXPAREL offers patients an alternative way to treat pain with minimally invasive surgical techniques, including speeding up recovery. For example, shoulder surgery is now often an outpatient procedure rather than a procedure requiring 3 days of recovery.
It’s important to note that EXPAREL is for post-operative pain, not chronic pain which is a very different issue. EXPAREL is not for repetitive use. Doctors administer it once, at the end of surgery.
How To Know If Your Prescription Is An Opioid
There are several ways:
- Look at the long sheet that the pharmacist supplies you. It will tell you.
- Google your script.
- Better yet, be proactive and ask your doctor when he is writing the prescription.
How To Properly Dispose of Opioids
Unused prescription opioids are a major contributing factor in the opioid epidemic. Once you are done with your prescription, dispose of the pills rather than leaving them as a temptation for anyone else you live with. How you can properly dispose of them depends on your local community. There drop off locations, police stations, and special bags you can use. Ask your town or community leaders.
Final Tips From The Doctors
The doctors signed off by giving some final tips for all patients and their parents.
- Sethi reminded us that as patients, we should remain empowered. Write down your questions before any appointments and bring them with you, so you won’t forget to ask.
- Misiek said to engage with our doctors during consultations. “Ask questions. None of them are stupid.”
- Greco shared that 2018 opens a new world in post-operative recovery. Old solutions had a short timeframe of working but EXPAREL is long acting. This pain treatment last days, not hours, thus avoiding many of the problems of opioids for post-surgery pain treatment.
Surgery, pain, and oral care require a healthy approach to pain management. It’s heartening that one good thing that has come from our country’s devastating opioid epidemic. It has made physicians and surgeons more careful and concerned about treating patients. It’s also clear that as patients and parents of patients, we need to engage and ask questions to safeguard our families and manage our care together with our healthcare providers.