Medical Schools Try Substituting Opioids With Nerve Blocks

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Medical Schools Try Substituting Opioids With Nerve Blocks

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Author: Shernide Delva

A discovery may help keep patients off addictive opioids while still providing the pain relief they desperately need. Just recently, Nashville Public Radio reports that the Middle Tennessee School of Anesthesia (MTSA) has restructured its program, so students do not lean on prescribing opioids. Instead, a more innovative approach will be considered. What could this be?

The answer could be nerve blocks. Nerve blocks deaden a particular area instead of knocking a patient out completely.  Nerve blocks are commonly associated with epidurals however improved technology is allowing them to be more widely used.

Chris Hulin, president of MTSA, recently had success with a nerve block while undergoing foot surgery. During the surgery, Hurlin even said hi to the surgeon a couple of times during the operation. During the entire procedure, he felt zero pain. He elaborated stating he “didn’t have any sensations” in his foot for 24 hours. Post-surgery, he simply took ibuprofen to manage post-op pain.

Still, nerve blocks are not commonly used in the medical field. MTSA students struggle even to find operating rooms that allowed the practice, according to NPR. However, with opioid addiction reaching epidemic proportions, MTSA believes it is important to increase access to this service.

“We want to eliminate or potentially decrease the probability that the patient is going to be exposed to those opiates for the very first time,” said Patrick Moss, who teaches acute pain management at MTSA. “We want to do everything we can to make that patient happy. And I think sometimes that’s been unfortunately the inadvertent withholding of therapies such as what we’re teaching here at our institution.”

Despite new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which call for limiting the number of opioid prescriptions, recent findings reveal that most surgeons are disregarding these limitations. A study released last month at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire found that out of the 642 patients they followed post-surgery, more than 90% were prescribed opioids.

Why? Jane C. Ballantyne, Professor of Education and Research in the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington, mentioned to The Fix that it has to do with our desire to find a quick solution to every ailment.

“We live in a culture in which the expectation is that we can ‘fix’ everything,”  she said. “It’s hard for physicians to say ‘no’ when patients demand opioids for pain because both patients and physicians have come to believe that opioids offer a solution.”

The important thing to recognize is that pain is real. People do experience pain and pain management is always going to be a necessity. However, how the medical community approaches treating pain does not have to stay the same. A few decades ago, we saw the rise of opioid prescriptions in the medical community. Now, they have become the norm, but there are other options. A solution like nerve blocks could be a useful tool for managing pain without the use of opioids.

More people are dying from overdoses than car accidents. It is the time we make a change in our approach treating patients with pain. The disease of addiction is not something anyone ever desires. Often, a visit to the doctor for a broken bone can spiral into a full blown opioid dependence. This has to stop.

Regardless of what methods we use to treat pain, the important thing is that we consider alternatives. There are so many people struggling. If you are alone, reading this article should confirm that you are far from the only one. The good news is we can teach you the tools to live a healthy life in recovery. Gain your life back. Call today.

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