Opioids After Orthopedic Surgery: 4 Tips For Getting Off Them The Right Way
A Growing Concern
The headlines surrounding opioid abuse and addiction sound a grim note and for good reason; according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), overdoses of these drugs accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in the country in 2016.  And while there are many factors at play, one of the reasons this has become a problem is because many get addicted to prescription opioids like Oxycontin, Percocet, or Vicodin following surgery. In light of this, doctors have to balance the very real need to help manage their patients’ pain with the very real possibility of addiction.
This is also an important consideration for patients of orthopedic surgery, who, depending on the treatment, will need to take these during recovery. While there will be an inevitable period during which these drugs are necessary to prevent suffering, the good news is that there are some things you can do to wean yourself off of these when the time is right and prevent addiction. Let’s take a look:
Tip #1: Supplement & Eventually Replace Non-Opioids
Typically, alongside opioid pain-killers, you’ll also be prescribed non-opioid medications like Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen to reduce swelling and help manage suffering. According to Dr. Scott Weiner, writing for The Harvard Health Blog, while you’ll inevitably need to take opioids, especially in the earlier going, a good step is to try to manage the pain as much as you can with these other drugs.  You should still be careful about intake of these—don’t take more than what your doctor has recommended—but see how well you can do with them before taking opioids.
Tip #2: Discuss Your Concerns With Your Doctor
As you’re in consultation prior to or after orthopedic surgery, don’t be shy about asking for information. If you’re concerned about opioid abuse potential—and you should be—make that clear. Dr. Weiner recommends you “consider having a discussion with your doctor about the number of pills you are likely to need in the first place before the prescription is written.”  The prevailing philosophy for a long time was for doctors to overprescribe these, which makes sense because they didn’t want patients suffering. However, if you emphasize that you’re concerned about these drugs, they’ll be more mindful about prescription amounts.
Tip #3: Educate Yourself
Alongside the risk of habits being formed, opioid drugs carry many other risks. Side-effects include drowsiness, loss of motor coordination, and adverse effects when taken alongside certain other drugs and alcohol. Make sure to learn as much as you can about what you’re taking; research online, and, as above, use your doctor or pharmacist as an additional resource. The more informed you are, the safer you’ll be overall.
Tip #4: Get Rid of Excess
One of the major drivers of the opioid epidemic, according to a recent study, are the left-overs from opioid prescriptions. In a review article published in JAMA Surgery, Dr. Mark C. Bicket and his team reported that based on evidence from six studies, 67 to 92 percent of post-operative patients reported having opioids remaining after they had recovered, with between 42 and 71 percent of their pills left-over.  That’s a great deal! What’s often glossed over is that the proper way to get rid of this excess is to actually take them back to the pharmacy for controlled disposal. Shockingly, Dr. Bicket and the team found that only 9 percent of patients actually did so.  It’s unsafe to hold on to them, so when you’re all set, take the rest back and keep them out of circulation.
The Path Ahead
No matter what kind of orthopedic surgery you have, the end-goal is for you to get back to the life you deserve: one free of pain and suffering. It’s a process, but the good news is that these treatments are very successful, and outcomes are continuing to improve. With better, more-precise techniques, there’s also less of a need for opioids during recovery. While the use of these drugs to manage pain is inevitable, if you’re smart and careful, they should pose no danger. Before long, you’ll be back to living the kind of life you deserve.
If you suffer from a medical condition of the shoulders, hips, knees, wrists, ankles, or elbows, the team at Onward Orthopedics is ready to help. The experts at these Texas-based outpatient clinics pride themselves in ensuring the best possible outcomes for their patients. Learn more about what they do by calling (800) 577-1693 today!
- “About The U.S. Opioid Epidemic”. 2017. Gov. Accessed April 19 2018. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/.
- Scott Weiner, MD. 2017. “Too Many Pain Pills After Surgery: When Good Intentions Go Awry – Harvard Health Blog”. Harvard Health Blog. Accessed April 19 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/too-many-pain-pills-after-surgery-when-good-intentions-go-awry-2017091112381.
- Bicket, Mark C., Jane J. Long, Peter J. Pronovost, G. Caleb Alexander, and Christopher L. Wu. 2017. “Prescription Opioid Analgesics Commonly Unused After Surgery”. JAMA Surgery152 (11): 1066. American Medical Association (AMA). doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2017.0831.