UVA Hospital cuts opioid use, helps improve patient pain

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Health care professionals at UVA Hospital say patients’ pain scores improved in a study of more than 100,000 surgical cases, even as doctors gave out fewer opioids.

UVA anesthesiologists reviewed 101,484 surgeries between March 2011 and November 2015 where patients received general anesthesia. During that timeframe, the average amount of opioids given per surgery at UVA declined 37 percent. At the same time, surgical patients’ self-rated average pain score on a 0-to-10 scale in a post-surgery recovery unit declined from 5.5 to 3.8, a 31 percent improvement.

UVA researchers believe their findings highlight one way to address the nationwide opioid abuse problem. In November, Virginia health officials declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

“There is very clear evidence that people can become opioid dependent because of the drugs they get during and after surgery,” said Marcel Durieux, MD, PhD, one of three UVA anesthesiologists who conducted the study. “I think that by substantially limiting opioids during surgery, we’ve made an important step in addressing that problem.”

Durieux says there are two factors in how UVA was able to cut patients’ pain. He says research shows opioids make patients more sensitive to pain, so reducing opioids given may improve pain scores on its own. Second, doctors increased the use of non-opioid pain medications.

The study’s findings were presented in December at the PostGraduate Assembly in Anesthesiology in New York.

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