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First opioid-free surgery program announced by Intermountain Healthcare

Posted at 8:13 PM, Feb 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 22:13:52-05

Intermountain Healthcare announced, Wednesday, the first opioid-free surgery program for patients wanting to have alternatives for pain control.

Over the past two years, doctors have been testing different pain medicines and using anesthesia to block nerves during surgery.

Jason Zeeman was one of those patients.

Zeeman was first introduced to opioids 19 years ago, when he broke his back in a motorcycle accident.

Because of what he called an addiction, Zeeman said he spent over a decade locked up in jail.

“I’ve been in and out all kinds of recovery based rehab facilities,” Zeeman said.

The pills never took his pain away and the longer he was addicted, Zeeman said, the more he felt shame and guilt.

“You’ll do anything to get rid of that feeling,” said Zeeman. “It’s the worst feeling that I’ve ever felt.”

In November of 2019, Zeeman needed inguinal hernia surgery, but he never wanted to feel the way opioids made him feel, again.

Zeeman asked his doctors not to prescribe him opioids.

“I wanted to be able to have the tools to function and have resources to where I didn’t have to go back,” said Zeeman.

That’s when doctors offered to let Zeeman test their new, opioid-free surgery program.

Will Shakespeare, the medical director of surgical operations and anesthesiology for Intermountain Healthcare said they would use anesthesia to block Zeeman’s nerves.

“Similar to what you would get at the dentist, where they put numbing medicine around the area that they’re working, we do a targeted injection,” said Shakespeare.

In doing so, Shakespeare said they learned their patients were healing faster and feeling better.

Now, doctors have a new app for them and their patients to keep track of how many pills they’re taking.

Nathan Richards, the medical director for Intermountain Healthcare’s surgical specialties clinical program said the app shows the distribution of what patients are taking and what the average dosage is.

“Now, I could say write for six pills,” said Richards. “Instead of routinely writing for 30 to 40 tablets.”

Intermountain has reduced their opioid prescriptions by 7 million in two years.

A heartening number, knowing overdosing on prescription pills is still the leading cause of death, here in Utah.

The cost of opioid-free surgery inside the hospital is more expensive, but Richards said there is a quicker recovery time, no post-surgery prescriptions to purchase and ultimately, you feel better.

For Zeeman, it means living an addiction-free life.

“The best part is, you don’t have to worry about going and being able to do something,” said Zeeman. “You become active in all aspects of your own life.”