Too many Americans have been touched by the opioid epidemic, but hopefully that will start to change soon. Physicians can fight back against this epidemic and save countless lives in the months and years ahead thanks to a heightened awareness among patients and caregivers about the risks, a firm commitment by the medical community to increase adoption of non-opioid pain management options and better coordination across the patient care continuum.
The American College of Surgeons cites research that patient education is best provided in a personal, face-to-face encounter with culturally and linguistically appropriate support materials. To proactively address the issue of patient education, the California Society of Anesthesiologists (CSA) has taken the lead as one of the first medical societies to produce content directly aimed at educating patients and their caregivers about safe opioid use and alternate pain management options.
The new CSA video, “How to manage your pain after surgery,” is available in both English and Spanish, with clear graphics and easy to understand messaging. The video content was developed based on the latest research and policies from nationally recognized medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While substance use disorders are complex and multifaceted, long-term opioid misuse often begins with treatment for acute pain, including patients who are recovering from surgical care. That’s why patient education is so critical at this key moment in their treatment.
Although surgery represents the first exposure to opioids for many patients, a recent report showed that 12 percent of patients who had a soft tissue or orthopedic operation became addicted or dependent on opioids in the year following surgery. But that means that 88 percent do not.
It’s important to keep in mind that surgery and untreated pain are in and of themselves harmful and must be treated appropriately. Physicians and other healthcare providers must strike the right balance to treat pain safely and effectively, using opioids where appropriate and incorporating other methods whenever possible.
Physicians should continue to advocate with insurance companies, other healthcare professionals and patients to use opioids as necessary, while encouraging (and funding) the use of other techniques to help with analgesia. Data from the National 2012 National Health Interview Survey revealed that an estimated 23.4 million adults (10.3 percent) experience “a lot of pain.” For these individuals, including those who are recovering from surgery, pain therapy serves an important purpose, especially given research that identified a link between discontinuation of opioids and suicidal acts.