News: Emerging technology could reduce the need for opioids after surgery

A technique called percutaneous peripheral nerve stimulation is being developed by a team at UC San Diego, led by Dr. Brian Ilfeld. The technique involves inserting a small wire next to a nerve and administering a mild electrical stimulation in order to interrupt the transmission of pain signals.


The device has been tested in patients recovering from operations on their arms, legs, and shoulders, and can be inserted without the need for sedation.


After the insertion, patients are able to control the electrical stimulation themselves from home with a battery-powered pulse generator.


In the study, which involved 31 people actually receiving the active de ice, opioid use was dramatically reduced by over 80%. Pain scores were also decreased by 60%, proving the device to be “far more potent than we had anticipated,” according to Ilfeld.

Pill bottle with green capsules spilling out
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

With continued testing, the hope is that devices such as this one could help to reduce the national opioid epidemic. It is estimated that around 2 million Americans currently abuse opioid drugs, with a staggering per-day overdose death rate of at least 90 people per day. Many of these people became addicted to opioids after initially being prescribed them for postoperative pain management.


Around 21-29 percent of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse the medications, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Given the severity of the drug’s misuse, developments such as the nerve-stimulation device are promising. The decrease of pain by over 50%, combined with the decrease in opioid use is more significant than what has been seen in many other methods.


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