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Opioids – Use, Risks & Other Options

Effective ways to manage your pain and safe use of opioids

tami and dog with sewing machine

Tami Conquers Her Opioid Addiction

With the support of a comprehensive team at Bryan, Tami no longer depends on opioids for pain management.

See Tami's Story

Prescription opioids are useful medications that have a short-term role to help relieve pain after surgery or injury, or for certain health conditions. However, when they are prescribed at too high a dose and for too long, there can be serious risks. Because of this, our society is seeing the harmful effects of opioids through an increase in addiction and deaths from opioid overdose. The key to patient safety and effective pain management is to ensure that opioids are used as intended, and to consider alternative pain management options as part of each patient's plan of care.

The Bryan Health Pain Management and Opioid Stewardship Program is a collaboration of doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists and others. The program's focus is to promote the safe use of opioids and effective pain management options including non-opioid medications and non-medication treatments.

Overcoming Opioid Addiction

For years Tami took fentanyl for her back pain. The long-term use led to addiction, strained relationships with family and constant pain even as she continued to take increasingly higher doses of the medication. “I was so miserable that eventually I just wanted to die,” says Tami.

Tami and pain management specialist Kelly Zach, MD, talk about her road to recovery, her new outlook on life and how she is now managing her pain without opioids. “I have my life back,” she says. “Being free of addiction is the best gift you can give yourself, and your family.”

Tami’s Story – Overcoming Opioid Addiction

Pain Management & Safe Opioid Use

The Pain Management and Opioid Stewardship Program at Bryan Health represents a culture shift in how we manage pain. We personalize each patient’s care plan to manage their pain using a multifaceted approach, rather than relying solely on opioids. Well-controlled pain is the key to patients being able to do the activities needed for recovery, and to enjoy a fulfilling life.

Alternative Ways to Ease Pain

The following activities can help reduce pain. These can be done on their own or while taking pain medication to increase the effectiveness of the medicine.

  • Practice deep breathing or meditation - These techniques aid relaxation, which helps ease pain
  • Reduce stress - Stress makes chronic pain worse. Negative feelings can increase your body’s sensitivity to pain
  • Exercise - Endorphins are brain chemicals released with exercise that can improve your mood and block pain signals
  • Limit alcohol use - Pain makes sleep difficult and alcohol can make sleep problems worse
  • Massage - Massage can help reduce stress and relieve tension. Massage has proven useful for people living with all kinds of chronic pain, including back and neck pain
  • Limit tobacco use - Tobacco has been linked to a higher occurrence of headaches, low back pain and other pain conditions
  • Guided imagery - This teaches you to imagine a picture in your mind. You learn to focus on the picture instead of your pain, and can help change the way your body senses and responds to pain
  • Progressive muscle relaxation - This involves tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time and then releasing the tension
  • Physical therapy - Through physical therapy you can gain strength and learn techniques to manage your pain. There are also innovative physical therapy treatments to relieve pain
  • Counseling - Trained professionals at the Bryan Counseling Center can help you learn ways to cope with any remaining pain as well as how to deal with daily stresses, techniques and relaxation exercises to reduce pain, and how to improve sleep and eat better to have more energy
  • Injections and other treatments - Here are some of the many options available at Bryan Health to help relieve pain

A Better Way to Rate Your Pain

You may be familiar with rating your pain on a scale of 0 to 10, and the use of faces to describe your level of pain. However, people differ in how they experience pain and it's often difficult to give pain a specific number. For this reason, we're using a new pain scale at Bryan Health to help patients provide a more accurate description of their pain. It focuses on the level of activity a person can tolerate to describe pain as mild, moderate or severe.

Functional pain scale

Safe Disposal of Opioid Medication

When your pain is under control, stop taking your pain medication. Don’t take it longer than needed or save it to treat another injury or condition in the future. It is very important to dispose of pain medications properly.

Ask your pharmacy if they can dispose of unused medications. You can find pharmacies throughout Nebraska that will dispose of your medications at

Podcasts & Other Resources

Kelly Zach, MD

Opioid Alternatives: Find a Better Way to Manage Your Pain

10-minute podcast

Kelly Zach, MD, of Innovative Pain & Spine Specialists, explains the different types of pain, the best way to talk to your doctor about your pain, and how to balance the risk and benefit of opioid medications. He also shares how to manage pain with opioid alternatives.

Listen Now

Wes Whitten, MD

Opioids: What Are They, Addiction Concerns & Other Alternatives

10-minute podcast

It's estimated that 78 people a day die from overuse of opioids. Opioids have been a common prescription solution for pain. However, the current opioid epidemic shows that addiction is a serious risk.

Wes Whitten, MD, of Nebraska Pain Institute, discusses signs of possible addiction and the many non-surgical options other than opioids for pain management.

Listen Now

David Rutz, MD

Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction

10-minute podcast

David Rutz, MD, of East Lincoln Family Health Professionals, discusses medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction. You'll learn how it works to promote recovery from addiction and a better way to manage pain.

Listen Now

tami and dog with sewing machine

Overcoming Opioid Addiction

For years Tami took fentanyl for her back pain. The long-term use led to addiction and constant pain even as she continued to take increasingly higher doses of the medication.

This is her story of hope, recovery and getting her life back while managing her pain in a healthy way.

Read Tami's Story Now

gena waldron

Managing Pain Without Drugs: Counseling Can Help

Through counseling, Gena has learned ways to cope with pain, how to deal with daily stress, techniques and relaxation exercises to reduce pain, and even ways to improve sleep and eat better to have more energy.

Read Gena's Story Now

pain management and opioid stewardship program logo

Responding to the Opioid Crisis

The Bryan Health Pain Management & Opioid Stewardship Program is a powerful collaboration of doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists and more. All are working together to promote safe use of opioids and effective pain management including non-opioid medications and non-medication treatments.

Read More about the Pain Management & Opioid Stewardship Program

prescription opioids campaign box

Prescription Opioids: What You Need to Know

What are the risks and side effects of opioid use, and how can you protect yourself and receive safe, effective pain management care.

Read Tips & Information from Health Experts

Naloxone: A Drug that can Reverse an Overdose

Some people are at a higher risk of opioid overdose than others. A number of factors increase the chance of accidental overdose, including higher opioid doses, long-term use, not taking prescription opioids as instructed and certain other medications. Opioid addiction and use of illegal opioids such as heroin also are risk factors. Opioid overdose most often is accidental, and causes death by slowing or stopping breathing.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a drug that can quickly reverse an overdose. Law enforcement officers and medical first responders often carry naloxone with them. It is easy to administer, either by nasal spray or auto-injector.

In Nebraska, any concerned person can obtain naloxone from any pharmacy without a prescription. This allows family and friends to keep this drug on hand and potentially save the life of a person who is experiencing an opioid overdose.

Pain Management Resources

These specialists work with you to treat severe or ongoing pain, or to overcome addiction.

Innovative Pain & Spine Specialists: Kelly Zach, MDPhillip Essay, MD & Thomas Brooks, MD
MD Pain: Liane Donovan, MD & John R. Massey, MD
Nebraska Pain Institute: C. Weston Whitten, MD, Douglas Spurgeon, MD & Brandon Staub MD

Bryan Services
Bryan Counseling Center
Bryan Independence Center


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