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Summa Health Leads the Charge for Opioid-Free Pain Management

Posted February 13, 2023 by Aisha Rahman, MD

Older man lying in hospital bed

Pain relief after surgical procedures is an important part of treatment and recovery. With reduced pain, patients are more likely to have a more comfortable recovery and faster return to everyday activities.

The problem is the most common way to treat pain after surgery is using opioids, such as morphine and oxycodone, and it’s no secret our country is battling an opioid epidemic.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 75,673 overdose deaths from opioids in this country during a 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 35 percent from the 56,064 deaths during that same period the year before. Still, at least 20 percent of patients that visit a physician for either acute or chronic pain will receive an opioid prescription.

It's a problem that exists right here at home, too. Ohio is among the top three states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.

That’s why Summa Health is leading the charge to alter these statistics by pioneering an opioid-free pain management approach in our pre-surgery, post-surgery and pain management treatments through the use of local anesthetics (numbing medication). Not only does this help prevent the possibility of opioid addiction, but our patients are also healing quicker and their overall satisfaction with treatment is more than triple those who were prescribed an opioid.

Affecting the entire body, opioids have very strong, unpleasant side effects, including: breathing difficulty, drowsiness, constipation, nausea and vomiting. What’s more, opioids can slow the recovery process because they put patients to sleep to eliminate pain, which suppresses their immune systems causing a longer road to recovery.

Unlike narcotics, local anesthetics are medications that numb a targeted site. Since they do not affect the entire body, they are a much safer alternative to opioids and there is less risk of unpleasant side effects. Local anesthetics have been used for years for different types of surgeries and dental procedures.

Learn more about some of the latest advances in pain management we’re implementing to eliminate the need for opioids, while at the same time improving patient outcomes. With a goal to reach 90 percent opioid-free procedures, we’re committed more than ever to fight the opioid crisis right here in our own community.

Regional anesthetic nerve blocks

A nerve block is the injection of a local anesthetic near specific nerves in a certain part of the body to decrease a patient’s pain during and after surgery. 

Regional blocks with local anesthetic can last for 24 to 36 hours and there are more than a dozen different types that can assist with a variety of procedures. Nerve blocks are more effective than narcotics through an IV, offer fewer side effects and most patients begin recovery shortly after they wear off. At Summa, these are now being used in almost 50 percent of all procedures.

Continuous peripheral nerve block

For patients who need pain control for more than 24 hours, a continuous peripheral nerve block (cPNB) can be used to continuously deliver pain medication directly to the affected area. Most surgeons place the catheter before general anesthesia wears off. Not only does the catheter deliver targeted anesthetic medication, it also:

  • Significantly reduces postoperative pain
  • Decreases the necessity for opioid pain medications
  • Eliminates most side effects commonly associated with oral pain medication
  • Provides a better environment to rest after surgery
  • Usually allows for easier participation in physical therapy, if needed, post procedure

While cPNBs are most commonly used to mitigate postoperative pain, research shows they may also be an option for patients with certain types of chronic pain, such as cancer-induced pain, phantom limb syndrome, and pain from vascular or severe nerve damage caused by an injury.

Pain ball system

For patients who need pain control for several days, a pain ball can be used to continuously deliver pain medication directly to the affected area. Summa Health is the only healthcare system in the region using the pain ball.

The pain ball is a small disposable pump filled with a local anesthetic that is connected to a small catheter, which is placed near the surgical incision site or under the skin next to a nerve near the affected area. The pain ball pump continuously delivers the medication at a very slow flow rate.

While decreasing the necessity for opioids, the pain ball also may provide:

  • Better pain relief without the side effects of opioids
  • A more comfortable recovery after surgery
  • A quicker return to everyday activities
  • Earlier release from the hospital

The pain ball system is completely portable and can be clipped to a patient’s clothing or placed in a small carrying case.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain on a daily basis, call 330.865.5333 to schedule an evaluation with Summa Health’s Pain Management Team. 


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