Grant Hill knows all about surgery and opioids.
The star athlete endured 11 surgeries during his 19-year career in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
With each operation, there was post-surgery pain.
And that pain was treated with prescription pills.
For Hill, the opioids weren’t a pleasant experience.
He had allergic reactions and other side effects, so he usually dropped the pills after the first prescription ran out in four or five days.
“I didn’t like the way I felt,” Hill told Healthline.
So, on his final surgery, Hill opted for a different type of pain management treatment.
It’s one given right before surgery that lasts for several days after the operation.
“It’s as pleasant an experience as surgery can get,” he said.
Hill recognizes that he is one of the lucky ones.
Many people who undergo surgery become reliant on prescription painkillers and many of them become addicted.
Due to that fact, Hill has joined the Choices Matter campaign of the group Plan Against Pain.
Its goal is to reduce what it calls the “overprescribing” of opioids.
Surgery and opioids
Surgery has been described as one of the “drivers” of the opioid epidemic in the United States.
A study released in April reported that 6 percent of 36,000 surgery patients continued to receive prescription opioids three to six months after their operations.
That was 12 times the rate of people who didn’t undergo surgery during the study period.
Another study released this week reported that 3 million Americans who didn’t use opioids before surgery became “persistent users” of the prescription pills after their operation.
That report also stated that the overprescribing of opioids led to a surplus last year of 3.3 billion unused prescription painkillers, pills that could be abused or sold by others.
Researchers said that a 10 percent reduction in opioid prescriptions would mean 330 million fewer unused pills.
Another study out this week reported that 19 percent of surgery patients in their research group received at least one prescription refill of painkillers.
Those researchers noted there were 260 million opioid prescriptions filled in the United States in 2012. That was four times as many as in 1999.
The consequences of opioid abuse are serious.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 60 percent of drug overdose deaths in the United States involve an opioid.
Dr. Paul Sethi is passionate about the topic.
As a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Connecticut, he has seen the destruction opioid abuse can bring.
That’s why he also joined the Choices Matter campaign and offers his patients alternative methods for pain management.
He talks with patients about what they can do before surgery (exercise, diet), during surgery (different anesthesia), and after surgery (reduce or eliminate drug usage).
Sethi, who specializes in sports medicine, is a strong believer in multimodal anesthesia. Advocates say this technique, implemented right before surgery, can reduce inflammation and postoperative pain, and therefore reduce the need for opioids.
Sethi notes that the 48–72 hours after surgery are crucial for pain management, and multimodal anesthesia can still be effective in that time period.
“It can make surgery more manageable,” he told Healthline.
Sethi said surgery has indeed played a major role in the opioid epidemic.
“The thought was by fighting fire with a lot of water we can take care of the problem,” he said.
Sethi explained that using alternatives like multimodal anesthesia can take away the wood and the oxygen from this painful fire and reduce the need for the water.
Sethi said post-surgery pain can be a difficult decision for a physician because you naturally want to help a patient who tells you they are in pain.
“It’s a difficult situation because pain is so subjective,” he said. “It’s a hard position for doctors because as doctors you are there to service patients.”
Sethi said people should discuss their post-surgery plans with their doctors before they have their operation.
“You need to go in with a game plan,” he said.