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Seattle Children’s eliminates opioids from Bellevue surgery center

Seattle Children's hospital in Bellevue, Washington. (KIRO 7 TV)

Seattle Children’s hospital successfully eliminated opioids from the operating room at their outpatient surgery center in Bellevue. At first, the plan was to reduce opioid use during surgery. The anesthesiology team had another idea, however — cut them out completely.

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“I was totally convinced this was just going to go down in flames, a total disaster,” said Dr. Lynn Martin, an anesthesiologist and the medical director of the surgery center.

He said his faith in the data monitoring system used to measure the impact on patients, made him willing to try.

“So, I finally relented and said we’re going to stop giving opioids completely, and nothing earth-shattering happened,” Dr. Martin said.

In fact, he says children woke up faster after surgery, were not any more uncomfortable, and had less nausea and vomiting.

For tonsillectomies, hernia surgeries, and sports injuries, children were given a combination of other drugs without morphine or other opioids.

Soon, Dr. Martin says the main hospital was cutting back their use during major surgeries as well. There, it meant shorter hospital stays.

Most of all, it meant less risk of exposure and addiction for young patients.

“We feel really good about it, because now we are no longer having to worry about the opioid risk for the patients receiving it,” Dr. Martin said.

For Dr. Martin, there is another motivation, guided by a former co-worker whose son overdosed on OxyContin.

“She’s there as kind of a cheerleader voice in the back of my head telling me, ‘Don’t stop, keep going, keep talking about it,’” he said.

Robin Rice was 24 years old when his mother found he had overdosed in their home in 2006. Dr. Rosemary Orr worked at Seattle Children’s for decades.

“After he died of an overdose, I became very concerned about the fact that physicians in general, other health practitioners, didn’t have any idea of how addictive oxycodone was,” Orr said.

She’s following the work being done at the Bellevue surgery center.

“I think it is a very positive step. Anything that reduces the amount of available opioids in the community is going to change things,” Orr said.

Now, the risk is not just opioids, but what is mixed with them.

“If a young adult thinks they’re buying a Percocet and it turns out to be fentanyl, that’s a disaster,” Orr said.

That’s what investigators say happened to Olga Davidov-Beirer’s son, Lucas.

Lucas Beirer died from a fentanyl overdose in September 2019. He was only 16 years old, a junior at Skyline High School in Sammamish.

“That’s what his friends told me, that Lucas was buying Percocet pills and he probably got one with fentanyl. I mean, he got one,” Davidov-Beirer said.

Another Skyline student died the month before, also from a pill laced with fentanyl, according to police.

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Davidov-Beirer is working to make other parents aware of this risk. She is glad Seattle Children’s is leading the way by cutting opioid use in the operating room.

“Eliminating any opioids, I think it is a great step forward,” Davidov-Beirer said.

Next, the Seattle Children’s Outpatient Surgery Center in Bellevue is working to eliminate all opioid use.

Dr. Martin is showing other hospitals across the country how he’s cut out opioids, and hopes they will follow his lead.

“I feel like this will hopefully be my legacy for my career when I finally retire,” Dr. Martin said.

By Alison Grande, KIRO 7 News

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