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Combating an Epidemic: Relieving Surgical Pain and Protecting Against Opioid Abuse Relapse

Within the context of the current epidemic, opioids used in postoperative and discharge settings are under increasing examination for the role they play during and after surgery.

For those in recovery for opioid addiction, facing a painful surgical procedure can cause fears of relapse or unrelieved pain. This provides an opportunity for early intervention and a proactive approach to prevent relapse in this uniquely vulnerable population.

A joint commentary written by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital highlights the potential of the ComfortCare program, an innovative set of interventions provided to patients undergoing surgery. These interventions are designed to prevent addiction or maintain addiction recovery through the surgical process, while ensuring comfort and pain relief for those with a substance use disorder. The commentary has been published in the journal, Pain Medicine.

“We posit that it’s time for new ways of doing things in the perioperative environment and argue for unseating opioids as the hammer with which to hit all nails of discomfort,” said Peggy Compton, PHD, RN, FAAN, the van Ameringen Chair in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing at Penn Nursing. Compton co-authored the commentary with Joseph Myers, MD, Department of Anesthesiology, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

The ComfortCare program involves a collaborative approach with an interdisciplinary team. The team identifies those in addiction recovery prior to admission and then uses a multimodal, opioid-sparing strategy and personalized care plan for addressing pain, avoiding relapse, and promoting recovery after surgery.

“Effective perioperative pain management is a priority for all patients, including those with a history of substance use disorder.  But relapse must be assessed as a potential opioid-related side effect in the recovering patients and relapse prevention strategies must be integrated into the care plan,” says Compton.