A Safer Way to Keep Kids Pain-Free

Kaiser Permanente is phasing out the use of opioids after pediatric tonsillectomy.

Feature Story

Opioid abuse is a public health crisis, causing an average of 115 deaths in the U.S. every day. But while abuse often starts in childhood, pediatric opioid use has received little attention.

Kaiser Permanente developed a program to address this need by reducing the use of opioids after pediatric tonsillectomy. It replaces codeine — known to increase the risk of respiratory depression and death in children — with the non-opioid painkillers ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

“The ‘why’ is very clear,” said Anna Grosz, MD, the head and neck surgeon who spearheaded the effort in Oregon and Southwest Washington. “We know that opioids are risky, and we want to keep kids safe.”

Within 18 months of launching the program, Dr. Grosz and her colleagues had reduced the use of opioids in young children by 67 percent.

Encouraged by their success, they set out to spread the program across Kaiser Permanente. To date, the organization has achieved a six-fold reduction in pediatric opioid use after tonsillectomy.

“Opiate reduction saves the lives of our children,” said Dr. Grosz. “Who could argue against that?”