Doctors across the country are taking part in an experimental surgery in order to test different alternatives for painkillers.
The rotator-cuff surgery is a common shoulder operation; it repairs the shoulder tendon from injuries from sports, wear and tear, or falling. It is determined to be one of the most painful surgeries to recover from and causes many patients to rely on prescription pain killers, known as opioids.
With this new surgical method, the doctors can inject a non-addictive anesthetic at the base of the neck to block pain signals. Another option is to send the patient home with a catheter implanted under the skin that provides regular doses of anesthetics for several days.
Additionally, these doctors will promote the use of icing the area and use mechanical stimulation of the surgical site in order to reduce pain and swelling. They also will advise using less addicting drugs, like Tylenol.
The goal is to have doctors widely adopt these procedures in order to cut down on prescription opioid abuse. Researchers both from the University of Chicago and New York University are aiming these methods at orthopedic surgeons, who are the most frequent prescribers of opioids in the medical field.
Andrew Rokito, chief of the division of shoulder and elbow surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells The Wall Street Journal, “As a profession we prescribe too many narcotics for too many patients. Barring unusual circumstances, we should be able to get a good handle on patients’ pain after surgery and minimize their opioid use.”
A July 2015 study from the Mayo Clinic reported that one in four patients who were prescribed a prescription pain killer progressed into a long term addiction.
Nationwide, 100 people die every day from drug overdoses. Two of those deaths are from heroin overdoses in the city of Chicago alone.
Often cheaper and easier to get than alcohol and tobacco, heroin is one of the most popular opioids in use.
With the state of Illinois limiting funding on state-sponsored addiction treatment programs, experts believe that more than 4,000 addicts will be left untreated. So many are holding out hope that this new medical technique will be successful.
And it all goes back to prescription pain killers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that 45% of people who used heroin started their addiction with opioids.