FINDING HOPE: Nampa doctor turns to opioid-alternative for patients' post-surgery pain

Posted at 1:59 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-15 13:14:30-04

As more and more Americans fall victim to opioid addiction, one local doctor is looking for alternatives to help his patients with post-surgery pain.

Instead of sending them home with just a bottle full of opioids, Dr. John Malan at Owyhee Oral and Facial Surgery in Nampa and Fruitland is numbing the pain at the point of surgery, lowering the need for prescription painkillers.

 Dr. Malan says he knows his surgeries may very well be the first time his young patients are introduced to an opioid prescription - many of whom are getting their wisdom teeth surgically removed. 

So far, his mission to lower the number of opioids handed out in the Treasure Valley is proving successful.

"Honestly,  I didn't feel any pain the whole time, so that was really, really nice," 21-year-old patient Tyson Smack said.

After many oral and facial surgeries, Dr. Malan is now using a long-acting local anesthetic called Exparel - a shot that numbs the site of surgery for up to three days, helping his patients battle post-op pain. 

"So imagine having a painful procedure but not feeling it," Dr. Malan said. "Because instead of masking it in the brain, it's actually masking it at the site - or blocking those pain signals at the site of the surgery."

The local anesthetic prevents facial pain for up to three days after surgery, helping patients make it through the most critical healing process without extreme discomfort.

"After like the first day I could pretty much go back to my normal tasks I was doing," Smack said.

Dental hygienist Alyssa Bicandi was surprisingly pleased after she chose the Exparel route when her 16-year-old daughter needed to get her wisdom teeth removed.

"She never had any problems," Bicandi said. "She never came to me, and I kept asking her, 'Are you uncomfortable?' and it was just, 'No, I'm doing great.'"

After reviewing results over the last six months., Dr. Malan says many patients can stick to simple ice packs and ibuprofen rather than the potentially addictive prescription opioids.

Smack says he never needed the prescription painkillers, so he never took them. "You know, I just didn't feel any pain and so I didn't think it was necessary," he said. Likewise, Bicandi says she didn't even fill the opioid prescription for her daughter, because the local anesthetic knocked out all pain.

 Dr. Malan says right now there is just one pharmaceutical company producing Exparel, but it's catching the attention of doctors nationwide. He hopes local anesthetics will become standard practice among oral surgeons to help cut back on the number of prescription pills circulating in the Gem State.