• By DeeDee Stiepan

Mayo Clinic Minute: Limiting opioids for postoperative pain management

November 12, 2021

Opioid painkillers are highly addictive. After just five days of prescription opioid use, the likelihood that you'll develop long-term dependence on these drugs rises steeply — increasing your risk of eventual addiction and overdose. 

Dr. Kelechi Okoroha, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon, says the opioid epidemic in the U.S. started in the 1990s, when patients were prescribed opioid pain relievers at an increased rate. This in turn led to widespread misuse and devastating consequences, including hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths.

In this Mayo Clinic Minute, Dr. Okoroha discusses some of the work Mayo Clinic is doing to limit opioid use by offering alternatives to postsurgical pain management.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute.

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"As orthopedic surgeons and spine surgeons, we account for about 30% of opioid prescriptions. We know we can have a huge impact on decreasing opioid-related deaths by limiting our opioid prescriptions," says Dr. Okoroha.

Dr. Okoroha says one way Mayo Clinic is working to limit opioids is offering patients alternative options to traditional postoperative pain management.

"It's a multimodal approach. Before surgery, we might give you a nerve block, and then we give you these multiple medications after surgery that should manage your pain medications such as acetaminophen to target pain, NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to target postoperative inflammation, and muscle relaxants to control muscle cramps and spasms," says Dr. Okoroha. "What we found is that using this multimodal approach, we're able to manage patients' pain with limited or no opioid use after common sports surgeries."

Dr. Okoroha has been involved in research on taking this approach, and the results have been promising.

"What we've found is that this regimen is at least as effective, if not more effective, in managing (postoperative) pain, compared to traditional opioid regimens."

"I think this is really game-changing research. I think we've found that it is effective in the four most common sports surgeries. So our plan is to implement it in other surgeries and hopefully decrease the opioid burden worldwide."

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