According to federal estimates, there were nearly 1.5 million Americans treated for prescription opioid or heroin addiction in 2015 alone. It is often unclear to many doctors how to manage pain in these patients after surgery or injury. What begins as pain relief for former addicts, can end in tragedy.
Before surgery, doctors routinely turn to an anesthesiologist to administer the correct anesthesia for a patient. Patients on relapse prevention drugs usually do fine with anesthesia and opioid pain killers after surgery. For patients who no longer take these drugs, there is no safeguard to protect them from a relapse.
The real problem comes in after surgery when the pain sets in and stronger painkillers are needed. If considerable relief from the pain is not achieved with non-opioid drugs, there is usually a stretch to find opioids without a prescription. Relapse is generally always the outcome. It isn’t the addiction treatment that fails these patients. It is the fact that the treatment ended.
Many doctors are realizing a need for addiction specialists to consult when treating such patients. The safety of the patient is the main concern before, during and after any procedure and risking a relapse is not caring for their future safety.
Meeting this need can be a problem with prescription opioid and heroin addictions reaching nearly 2.5 million Americans. Addiction specialists in the country only number to around 5,000 and most aren’t affiliated with hospitals.
Placing these patients in the hands of someone trained to deal with these types of addictions may be the only hope to prevent relapse.