Physicians are seeing more cases of an otherwise rare spine infection — osteomyelitis — that can be caused by injecting bacteria along with heroin.
A recent Norton Leatherman Spine study took a closer look at osteomyelitis patients. The study revealed the number of Norton Leatherman Spine patients with spine infections that required surgery increased twelvefold from 2012 to 2016.
“It used to be that the majority of our osteomyelitis patients were elderly, sick diabetics, but the heroin epidemic has really changed that patient demographic,” said Jeffrey L. Gum, M.D., a Norton Leatherman Spine surgeon.
In 2012, Norton Leatherman Spine saw only five patients with these serious spine infections and intravenous drug use wasn’t a cause in any of them. By 2016 that number had grown to more than 100, with the majority of them coming from patients using intravenous drugs. Doctors also found that most patients were too far along to avoid surgery.
Osteomyelitis surgery typically consists of two procedures. “In the first surgery, we remove the infection in the disc and bone in the front of the spine,” Dr. Gum said. “Then, in the second procedure we go in the back of the spine and stabilize it with screws and rods.”
Striving for Opioid-Free Surgeries
Norton Leatherman Spine physicians are taking additional steps to protect its patients from the risk of addiction after surgery. “We realize that the opioid issue in this area is a serious problem, and we are doing everything we can to develop techniques and strategies to help reduce it within spine care,” Dr. Gum said.
Those techniques and strategies span from research to innovative robotic technology that assists in spinal surgeries. Robotic technology increases precision, reduces pain and allows patients to take fewer medications.
Norton Leatherman Spine researchers recently studied spine patients given opioid pain relievers in the hospital after surgery. “This study was meant to bring us steps closer to reducing opioid use,” Dr. Gum said.
Researchers discovered that several factors play a role in the amount of opioids used after a spine surgery. The invasiveness of the surgery, the amount of opioids patients take before surgery, and how opioids are prescribed after surgery — paired with over-the-counter pain relievers — all played a role.
“If we can do less invasive surgeries through smaller incisions, that brings us steps closer to reducing opioids needed,” Dr. Gum said. “We are very close to performing opioid-less surgeries at Norton Leatherman Spine.”
In addition to smaller incisions, Dr. Gum said efforts by the anesthesia team to develop creative ways to control pain without opioids are producing amazing results that soon will be presented nationally and published in spine literature.
Refer a patient
To refer a patient to Dr. Gum or any Norton Leatherman Spine provider, click here for the online referral form, or call (502) 629-1234, option 3.