Opioids are effective at relieving pain but some people overuse and get addicted to them.

However, new research has suggested a protocol that can help prevent or reduce the need for opioids in people who take them before, during, and after surgery.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered “Enhanced Recovery After Surgery” (ERAS) protocol and found that patients did not need opioids for pain management after invasive surgeries.

The findings, published in Pain Medicine, come from an in-depth analysis from the researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine.

The team found that when patients followed the ERAS protocol, very few of them needed pain medications at one, three, and six months after surgery.

Developed by Penn researcher, the ERAS protocol includes a personalized, safe, and effective pain management plan in order to prevent opioid overuse or addiction, which is one of the ongoing public health issues in the United States.

The protocol engages patients in their care before, during, and after their hospitalization. It includes “patient education, text reminders, nutrition information, early mobilization, and recovery plans.”

ERAS also includes the patient’s surgical journey and rehabilitation to improve prognosis and optimize a safe recovery.

Senior author and neurosurgeon Dr. Zarina Ali said, “We know from our clinical experience and previous literature that programs like ERAS work, but we didn’t expect the impact on opioid use to be so sizeable.”

“The most important outcome from this study is the decrease in opioid use,” she added. “Furthermore, patients following the ERAS protocol reported less opioid use without higher pain scores. This represents an important advance in the context of the current nationwide opioid epidemic.”

The study, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine in 2019, enrolled more than 1,140 patients in the ERAS protocol.

The team found a notable reduction in opioids use among patients who followed the ERAS protocol at one, three, and six months after surgery.

In addition, the patients enrolled under the ERAS plan were up and moving faster than patients who did not follow the protocol. Furthermore, the ERAS group had shorter hospital stays compared to the control group.

First author of the study Dr. Tracy Flanders said, “Previous publications have demonstrated ERAS implementation in neurosurgery practices primarily through minimally invasive spinal surgery, but our neurosurgical practice has been actively applying ERAS principles to elective spine and peripheral nerve surgery since 2017, in coordination with a variety of departments across the health system.”

“This study captures the exciting benefits of this protocol for minimizing opioid use, decreasing length of stay, and more without impacting patient satisfaction,” she added. The article appeared on Psych Central.