GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the opioid crisis continues, doctors are trying new approaches to treat patients while reducing opioid use.

Dr. Paul Hilliard, an anesthesiologist with University of Michigan Health, said opioids are one tool to treat patient pain following surgery, but how they’re prescribed must be done carefully.

“The number one surgical complication is not wound infection, it’s not embolism, a blood clot after surgery, it’s new persistent opioid use,” Hilliard said. “Data shows that when people are exposed to opioids for as little (as) five to seven days, they have a higher risk of going on to continue to use those medications.”

According to data from the State of Michigan, 3,096 Michiganders died from a drug overdose in 2021. Hilliard said anesthesiologists with Michigan Medicine are deploying unique treatments to curb opioid use.

“This can range from everything from peripheral nerve blocks to the use of regional anesthetic techniques, epidurals. … Also, infusions and administration of various medications to that further reduce harm related to opioids,” Hilliard said.

Dr. Colleen Lane, medical director of addiction medicine with Corewell Health-West, said medical professionals are at the frontlines of the opioid crisis.

“We are seeing patients every day and have the opportunity to screen folks, talk about substance use disorders, and offer treatment,” Lane said.

At Corewell Health (formally Spectrum Health), all providers are trained on how to safely prescribe opiates, through an initiative called ‘Safe Medication Prescribing.’

“How to ween folks if patients are taking opiates at really high doses, how to make sure we’re weening them in a way where patients aren’t experiencing withdrawal,” Lane said.

Corewell Health has also created a walk-in addiction clinic, open Monday through Friday. Over the last year and a half, Lane said it has helped more than 450 patients receive the treatment they need.

“That is novel here in West Michigan, we at Corewell Health are piloting and we are sharing at conferences and with our colleagues across the country,” Lane said.

Hilliard says 10 years ago some of the new techniques may have been unfamiliar to surgeons and other providers. Through their training, he says younger medical professionals have much more experience with these methods and he expects treatment options will continue to evolve.