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Millions of Americans — including many reading this, our friends and neighbors — live with conditions that cause pain.

Overcoming pain safely, as Michigan battles its way through a devastating opioid crisis, has never been more important.

This September is National Pain Awareness Month. It's a good opportunity for residents who are experiencing chronic pain to learn more about their conditions and the physicians, help and resources that are there to help.

The truth is, there are many types of pain, and there is no magic bullet — or pill — to treat it. Every patient is different, which means every treatment will be, too. Ensuring a treatment is personalized and effective requires the helping hand of a physician who specializes in pain medicine.

Physician anesthesiologists are pain medicine specialists who undergo over a decade of education and specialized training to evaluate patients before they receive anesthesia or undergo treatments for chronic pain. They are literally pain experts, and are responsible for developing the plan for care and for its safe delivery. They’re there for patients before, during and after health care procedures, and they understand that following a few simple tips, patients can often experience relief.

First, patients should understand that they don’t have to live with untreated pain. Patients experiencing chronic pain are strongly encouraged to see a pain medicine specialist. Physician anesthesiologists are trained to evaluate and develop a treatment plan specifically tailored for each patient.

Next, learn what treatment options are available. Taking a simple quiz developed by the American Society of Anesthesiologists can help patients identify the cause of pain, their options and the next best steps to safely find relief. Asking their physician about their pain is another great way to learn more.

When it comes time for treatment, steps can be taken to limit or avoid the use of opioid pain killers. Patients who are experiencing pain now or are preparing for a surgical procedure should talk to their physician anesthesiologist to develop a personalized plan to treat and combat pain while limiting the threat of addiction.

Finally, whenever possible, avoid the use of opioids. If opioids are the best or only treatment option available immediately after an operation, ask your anesthesiologist about opioid minimizing techniques, carefully follow physician’s instructions and discontinue use as directed.

Last year, opioid related deaths in Michigan were 17 times higher than they were in 1999, and it's no wonder why. In recent years there was at one point enough opioids prescribed in Michigan to give every resident in the state 84 pills.

Today, physician anesthesiologists are serving patients by developing dynamic new treatment methods, practicing opioid-free general anesthesia and creating enhanced recovery pathways that reduce the stress of surgery, accelerate recovery and slash post-operative opioid use.

These are tools — and expertise — that limit the amount of opioids on the street and they’re giving patients the help they need to safely overcome pain.

Roy Soto, M.D., is the president of the Michigan Society of Anesthesiologists.

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