Doctors turn to opioid alternatives to curb addiction

- Opioids have been the standard in operating rooms for decades. 

"Opioids were an integral part of general anesthetic, usually IV fentanyl. IV fentanyl being 50 times more potent than heroin," says anesthesiologist Dr. David Samuels.

He says before the opioid epidemic, he was searching for ways to avoid "dead in bed" syndrome. It's where one minute a patient receiving opioids in hospitals looks fine, then fifteen minutes later they would be dead.

Dr. Samuels first focused on cutting use, and then he heard about opioid-free surgery in Europe.

"I came back after hearing that lecture and never gave another intra-operative opioid," he recalls.

Now he uses meditation and a cocktail of drugs that puts patients to sleep and helps them wake up with fewer side effects. He is also debunking a common myth.

"The concept that opioids are the best analgesic: false," Samuels says.

"I woke up from the surgery pain-free," says one patient of Dr. Samuels.  

This man, who we will call Max, went opioid-free before and after surgery. Max does not want his real name or face revealed. He abused Vicodin for six years and it almost ruined his life.

"It took my job, it was starting to take my health, and my family was next," he says.

So Max got clean. It was several months into his recovery when ENT surgeon Dr. Brett Scotch recommended nasal surgery.  Max panicked.

"He had concerns about undergoing any kind of anesthesia and knowing that opioids would be used, could throw him into a relapse," says Dr. Scotch.

Dr. Scotch admits, like many surgeons, he was skeptical at offering a non-opioid option until he saw the results. 

"The jury was out for me until I saw it with my own eyes," he says.

Dr. Samuels is now launching N.O.P.E: Non-opioid perioperative engagement. He wants physicians and patients to know: You can go opioid-free.  

"If a patient can come in and tell a facility, or a physician, that they don't want opioids they should have a right to do that."         

Max hopes his experience will help break the addiction cycle.

"Get the surgery done. Advil and Tylenol will work better than Percocet. That's what I was told and they understated it."

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