NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Experts have warned that Americans are in the midst of a prescription drug epidemic, especially narcotics or opioids.

The ‘gateway’ into opioid addiction is often painkillers after surgery.

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As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained, there is an alternative for post-op pain without narcotics.

Opioid drug abuse and addiction is a huge problem. The CDC said as many as 80 deaths a day are the result of opioids.

A recent national survey found that one in ten people addicted to narcotics started out with pain killers prescribed after surgery.

There is an alternative.

Gabby Reece is one of the best known beach volleyball players ever. She won three Olympic gold medals, and was Nike’s first spokeswoman, but years of sports took a toll on her knees.

“My knee felt like metal-on-metal burning. I cried in my closet a few times. I’m sure I was meaner to my kids than usual, because your fuse is quite small,” she said.

That led to a total knee replacement a little over three months ago. It was a very painful operation.

Even so, Gabby only took opioid painkillers for two days.

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“I’m very respectful of the fact that they are addictive, and so I thought, you know, as strong as I am, as strong in my mind, I thought why even tempt fate? Why even go there?” she said.

It’s those first two or three days after surgery where post-op pain is most intense, and when narcotic pain relief is often needed.

“By the second or third day, most patients can then take really over-the-counter prescriptive anti-inflammatory medications without the need for narcotics,” Dr. Scott Sigman explained.

One way to ease that early post op pain is with an FDA approved local anesthetic called exparel. Unlike conventional local anesthetics that wear off in a few hours, this drug is encapsulated in a series of tiny fat globules that act as a sort of time release device, maintaining pain control as long as three days.

“For many patients we can’t completely eliminate opioids, but we can really dramatically reduce the exposure,” Dr. Sigman said.

Gabby is a paid spokesperson for an anti-opioid abuse campaign and website at

‘The ultimate message is to give the power to the patient and say ‘Hey, you have other options besides excruciating pain and opioids?'” she said.

The website lets you print out a questionnaire to help discuss your concerns and pain relief options with doctors before surgery.

It won’t prevent all addiction, but it will empower patients to be their own advocate.

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