Reducing the use of opioids with nerve-blocking

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you're scheduled for surgery but worried about post operation pain and taking painkillers, there's good news! Doctors are hoping to reduce the use of opioids with a safer alternative called nerve-blocking.

Stuart Anders shattered his femur in a car accident. 


"I don't remember a lot of it. Woke up in shock trauma here," said Anders. What he does remember, however, is begging ER doctors not to give him opioid painkillers- the longtime go-to drugs for severe pain.


Anders had been addicted to them before and couldn't relapse. "I was ready to lose, my wife was going to leave me, was going to lose my job of 23 years."


The University of Maryland  Medical Center had another option for Anders and other patients wanting to avoid highly addictive narcotic painkillers like morphine, vicodin, and oxycontin.


The procedure is called an ultrasound-guided nerve block. Using an ultrasound machine and probe, an anesthesiologist can locate specific nerves in the body that affect an injury or surgical site. 


The doctor inserts a tube and then infuses the nerve with a numbing agent.


"It totally made everything completely numb. There was no pain at all," said Anders. He had the nerve block done on his broken leg, and was given the medication several times during his hospital stay. 


"As long as you can block them and provide them with good pain relief, initially, for the first 24-48 hours after surgery, the pain that comes back after that isn't necessarily as hard and as strong," said Dr. Ron Samet, an anesthesiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


Some patients are still prescribed opioids to ease pain while recovering at home, but in lower doses. Doctors say there has a been a significant reduction in opioid use in patients who opt for nerve block.