In recent years, pursuing a career in anesthesiology would inevitably mean having to deal with opioids. That might be on the verge of changing. Thanks to a greater awareness of the current opioid crisis, anesthesiologists are beginning to see the value of reducing opioid use in a hospital setting. A small handful of anesthesiology departments are close to eliminating opioids altogether.
According to Becker’s Hospital Review, one hospital in Ohio has drastically cut opioid use from 98% of surgical procedures in 2017 to just 20% in 2018. They hope to reduce that number to 10% or less by the end of 2019.
Why the Drive to Eliminate Opioids
Opioids are a class of drugs that have been used for pain relief for decades. In theory, they can be used safely under the direction of a licensed medical professional who knows how to prescribe them properly. In reality though, opioids are more difficult to control than they seem.
The Becker’s article cites studies that suggest as many as 6% of all opioid addicts can trace their roots back to a single dose administered during surgery. Dr. Thomas Mark, chairperson of anesthesiology at Summa Health in Akron, applied that 6% to come up with some raw numbers for his hospital.
According to Mark, Summa performs 20,000 surgical procedures every year. A rate of 6% indicates that 450 of their patients could possibly face opioid addiction following surgery. Mark called that unacceptable.
There Are Alternatives
The good news for anesthesiologists is that there are other options. Summa Health has been an industry leader in pursuing those options, which explains why they have cut opioid use so drastically. Their anesthesiologists now rely on local anesthesia, continuous peripheral nerve blockers, OTC pain medications, and pain management therapies.
The long and short of it is that opioids are not absolutely necessary for treating patients in surgery or managing their pain afterward. There are other ways to manage pain effectively without subjecting patients to the risk of opioid abuse.
We Can Solve the Problem
There is no doubt that the opioid crisis we now face has reached critical mass. And although it’s neither accurate nor fair to lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of the medical industry, it’s nice to see professionals like Dr. Marks recognize that modern medicine has played a role in creating the problem. Because Marks and Summa Health were willing to take an honest look at their own practices, they been able to contribute to a solution.
What they are doing at Summa Health is a clear indication that anesthesiologists have a role to play in bringing an end to the opioid crisis. Anesthesiologists are in a unique position to help patients manage pain during and after surgery in a way that does not involve drugs that we know to be highly addictive.
As for young people preparing to enter anesthesiology, it will be interesting to see if their educational programs are altered in any way. Hopefully they will be trained to use non-opioid methods in both the operating room and post-op recovery. If they can go into their careers with a proper perspective on opioids, perhaps they will be the generation responsible for finally bringing an end to the crisis.
In the meantime, here’s hoping that the success found at Summa Health is noticed by other hospitals. Hopefully those other hospitals will follow the example and reduce opioid use just as drastically. If hospitals across the country can get the numbers as low as Summa’s, they will make a real dent in future opioid addiction.