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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Trying to find a way out of the ongoing opioid crisis, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston are educating patients and giving them alternatives for healing.

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Nearly 11.5 million Americans misused opioid pain relievers prescribed by a doctor last year and 43,000 of those users were killed, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

CBS4 News took a look at what they’re doing to curb the crisis.

At 88-years-old, Marvin Wiener is enjoying life, pain-free. He is an attorney who still practices law and he plays golf. After years of playing tennis, Wiener wore down his shoulder, needing replacement surgery.

“I was playing tennis for half a century. I remember I was in pain before the surgery. My shoulder was bone on bone,” said Wiener.

He went to the Cleveland Clinic three years ago and he finally got his new shoulder.

“I’m very happy I had such a successful result. The surgery went extremely well,” said Wiener.

Still, Wiener had some post-op pain to get through. His doctor’s goal was to keep him from relying on opioids to treat the pain.

“I was aware of the opioid epidemic. And I shy away from those things,” he said. “I did use one oxycodone along the way. And they gave me 30 and we threw 29 away.”

Susan Eramos-Webster went through something similar just a few months ago, after a tendon ripped away from one of her bones. She also knew about the dangers of opioid addiction.

“The pain after surgery, you think about it, that you’re gonna have discomfort. Your body’s been invaded, you’re gonna have a repair done. You’re gonna have bone taken off,” said Eramos-Webster. “And you’re gonna be managing discomfort. So you prep yourself for that, responsibly.”

Despite exercising before surgery and believing in holistic healing. Susan still found herself needing something stronger than ice, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

“Approximately three days after surgery, I had breakthrough pain that I said, ‘You know, I think I need a little help with this because I’m not a martyr either,” she said. “And so what I did is I took an old oxy from an old surgery that was four years old. ”

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Dr. Vani Sabesan is an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who performed Susan and Marvin’s surgeries.

Sabesan said when planning for surgery with patients, she discusses the opioid crisis and the risks of relying on the highly addictive painkillers after the procedure.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse said each day more than 115 people across the country die from an opioid overdose. The types of opioids include prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The Institute also points out, 21 to 29 percent of people prescribed opioid pain relievers, misuse them.

And 80 percent of those who use heroin now, actually started by misusing prescription opioids in the first place.

“Although we know the public is really getting better acquainted with these facts and the crisis, no one wants to be in pain,” said Sabesan.

Besides educating patients and giving them alternatives for healing, Cleveland Clinic surgeons like Sabesan are proactive during the actual procedure.

“We decided to take it upon ourselves to really change the way we approach surgery,” said Sabesan. “We’re doing research with them where they bind to fat molecules and
they slowly reduce the anesthetic locally wherever that surgery is.”

In the case of Susan and Marvin, Sabesan numbed the nerves inside their shoulders, keeping them pain-free up to three days after surgery.

That’s precisely when each patient took one opioid painkiller and from then on relied on over-the-counter medications instead.

“Two weeks after my surgery when they asked me how high I could lift my shoulder I was able to go like this,” said Wiener. “So it was a wonderful result. And my pain level was down to zero.”

“I don’t really like the feeling of the heavy drugs. So I use more of a holistic approach. Massage, lymphatic drainage,” said Eramos-Webster.

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Another possible upside to nerve blocking during surgery includes fewer post-surgery side effects from anesthesia such as nausea and vomiting.