Relying less on opioids after abdominal surgery

There's a new way to manage pain and get patients back to work much faster after abdominal surgery.

CLEVELAND – Recovering from abdominal surgery is tough. It takes the average person at least six weeks to get back to work.

Now, there's a new way to manage pain and get patients back to work much faster.

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says prescription opioid overuse for pain management costs the U.S. at least $78 billion a year.

Chronic, searing pain in his digestive tract almost kept Steve Milton from his garden and his dog.

"I had a real difficult five months prior to my operation," Milton said.

Three ER visits. One hospitalization. Never-ending infections. Doctors put him on antibiotics for diverticulitis.

"They tried a variety of drugs. Actually, had bad reactions to one of the drugs and was hospitalized," Milton said.

Surgery was next with a new way to handle Milton's pain afterwards.

"It prevents patients from developing post-operative pain. It accelerates their recovery so they're in bed less and getting less post-operative complications," said Dr. Mark Horattas, chair of surgery at Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

A combination of pain blockers and local anesthetics are placed right next to the incision before surgery. And they last up to three days after the operation, which reduces the need for opioids.

"Opioids were associated with problems with delayed bowel function," Horattas said.

The new approach cut the days in the hospital by more than half and the use of morphine by 80%.

"They feel better, they're happier and they have less pain," Horattas said.

Milton was up and walking around four hours after his surgery, went home in two days and was back at work in no time, and was only taking Tylenol for pain.

"I'm a new man from what was a real potential life-threatening situation," Milton said.

According to Horattas, the recovery protocol can be used on all abdominal surgery patients and is being expanded to those going through breast surgery. Horattas hopes to get the protocol approved for all surgeries that require the use of opioids.

Horattas said to talk to your doctor and anesthesiologist about how to manage your pain and prevent it. This is a very serious problem because nearly 30% of patients who are prescribed opioids for pain misuse them.