Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses with more than 93,000 deaths in the U.S. For too many, addiction begins in the hospital, where opioids are widely prescribed after surgeries or injuries. A new national survey by Orlando Health finds nearly four out of five Americans believe opioids are necessary to manage pain after surgery, but most would also be open to forgoing these potentially harmful medications if there are better options.

“When I talk to patients and reassure them that we’re going to be replacing opioids with a much more effective and safe method, and really talk to them about the risks of opioids that have become much more evident with the research that’s come out recently, most patients are very open to the idea,” said Luke Elms, MD, a general surgeon at Orlando Health Dr. P. Phillips Hospital.

Dr. Elms has implemented a protocol that uses common over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and muscle relaxers. Used in coordination, these safer medications can offer powerful pain relief that is more targeted to a patient’s specific areas of pain than the blanket coverage of opioids.

“It’s very important for us to keep in mind that people do have pain and people do need pain control. The solution is not to just pull opioids away from people and leave them to fend for themselves,” Dr. Elms said.

The survey found that 65 percent of Americans are more worried about managing their pain than the risks of opioid addiction, but more than two-thirds would be willing to try opioid-free pain management after surgery.

The opioid avoidance program is part of Orlando Health’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. It works in tandem with Jaime Bridges, an opioid coordinator at the Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center who is trained to recognize those who are struggling with or at risk for opioid use disorder. Bridges provides counsel and resources to ensure patients are supported while they’re in the hospital and also after they leave.

“It’s obviously common for people to become addicted to opiates. So for the millions of people who have already struggled with that disorder, their risks are greatly exacerbated,” Bridges said, “When these patients are discharged, whether they were here for an overdose or an injury, we give them all of our contact information and that person can call us, even in the middle of the night, and we will answer the phone and provide the support they need.”

It’s this comprehensive approach to the problem that is helping to prevent addiction when possible, help those recovering from substance abuse and save lives.