Less Pain and Quicker Recovery With Opioid-Free Anesthesia

Now Available At Medical Center of Trinity

There’s a new way of doing surgery at Medical Center of Trinity that greatly reduces patient pain and recovery time, and eliminates the use of opioid medication and its addictive properties.

Dr. Dilendra Weerasinghe, a board-certified general and bariatric surgeon, recently joined the hospital’s medical staff and brought with him expertise in opioid-free anesthesia. He has worked closely with Dr. Jonathan Hisghman, who heads up the hospital’s anesthesiology department, to set up an opioid-free anesthesiology program.

Dr. Dilendra Weerasinghe

The two physicians have implemented a protocol for surgery and post-operative care that was initially developed in the United Kingdom, where Dr. Weerasinghe received his medical training.

“Instead of using opioids and traditional anesthesiology, this protocol uses multiple drugs and nerve blocks that stop the pain at the source, before neurons transmit pain from its source to the brain,” explains Dr. Weerasinghe. “For example, before you make an incision or a cut, you block the pain before it reaches the brain or the central nervous system.”

Dr. Weerasinghe came to Medical Center of Trinity last fall to launch an opioid-free weight loss and general surgery program. His team has already successfully used this protocol on more than 20 surgeries, including bariatric cases.

Opioid-free anesthesiology has many benefits, but one of its most important is not exposing the patient, his family and caregivers to opioids’ addictive risks.

“We have an opioid crisis today, and the source for many of these drugs are prescriptions written to relieve pain after surgery,” explains Dr. Hisghman. “Unfortunately, these prescriptions can sometimes be abused by the patient, or by people who have access to a patient’s drugs.”

“Treating pain with opioids has the unintended consequence of opioid addiction, and continuing to prescribe opioids today contributes to the addiction and overdose crisis impacting our communities,” adds Dr. Weerasinghe.

There are many other important advantages of opioid-free anesthesiology. This includes less pain and shorter recovery time after surgery, reduced nausea that allows patients to more quickly resume normal eating and drinking, and no constipation common with opioid drugs.

“Most importantly, patients spend less time in the hospital, and resume their regular activities much sooner,” said Dr. Weerasinghe.

For the past 20 years, there was a big push to eliminate patient pain, explains Dr. Weerasinghe, which led to the over-prescribing of opioid medication.

“Being free of pain is not necessarily a good thing, especially if it delays a person’s recovery and exposes him to potential addiction,” said Dr. Weerasinghe. “Cultural, political and pharmaceutical factors pushed for a standard of no pain, which is not always the best goal for a patient because of the risk opioids bring.”

Dr. Weerasinghe shared that research on patient discharge after surgery shows that 7% of patients are still using opioids six months after surgery, and of those, 14% are still on opioids five years later. The best way to prevent addiction from occurring is to not prescribe opioids at the time of surgery.

“The opioid crisis contributed to exploration of alternative pain relief, which led to the multi-modal approach to pain relief that we’re using with opioid-free anesthesiology,” said Dr. Weerasinghe.

“This is not an abandonment of pain relief — but a new solution to stop the pain at the source,” adds Dr. Hisghman. “After almost 20 years of practice, I did not want to be left out on this new approach to treating pain at its source, with better outcome for my patients.”

Drs. Weerasinghe and Hisghman have found that opioid-free anesthesia often provides superior post-operative pain control and lessens side effects often found with opioid pain medication.

“Opioid-free anesthesia makes surgery more pleasant, increases safety and enhances recovery,  all while providing superior pain control,” said Dr. Weerasinghe. “Our patients want this – it makes surgery less complicated and gives us better outcomes.”

Medical Center of Trinity is the only hospital in Tampa Bay currently using opioid-free anesthesiology. Its patients have ranged in age from their 30s to 80s, and all have left the hospital with minimal to almost no pain.

“I even recommended a similar opioid-sparing anesthesia model for my mother-in-law, who had great success,” said Dr. Hisghman. “She is a believer in this protocol, and so am I. This is a visionary approach for our hospital, and truly sets us apart from other medical facilities. We are very proud to be offering it to residents of our community.”

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