New Research Shows Dentists May Be Contributing to Opioid Epidemic


NEW YORK – When it comes to young adult health concerns, most people like to think that the worst thing they could deal with would be a cold, which Americans get about one billion of every year. Unfortunately, a new study shows that there is a greater concern people need to be aware of. Research has found that dentists who prescribe opioids to young adults after wisdom teeth removal procedures may put their patients at risk of developing an addiction.

A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that there is a much larger than expected role that dental prescription play in the current opioid epidemic the U.S. is facing. In 2017 alone, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths. And when dentists prescribe opioid painkillers after procedures, they may be setting their patients up for an addiction.

While many adults receive extensive dental treatments, especially the 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 who have peridontal disease, millions of Americans undergo the procedure to have their wisdom teeth removed every year. And to help with the pain, dentists often prescribe opioids to their patients.

In 2015, almost 6% of the 15,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 who were prescribed opioids by their dentist were diagnosed with an opioid addiction or abuse within one year. In comparison, 0.4% of those in a similar group who did not receive a prescription from a dentist was diagnosed with opioid abuse.

Due to the increasing number of opioid abuse cases in young adults, dentists have finally started to reconsider prescribing such heavy medications for post-surgical pain. This is especially true seeing as how patients can just as easily manage pain with over the counter medications. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed that other medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, actually work better when it comes to alleviating dental pain.

But despite this information, dental practitioners continue to prescribe opioids. The researchers looked at the health insurance claims of over 750,000 patients between the ages of 16 and 25. Of these patients, 13% were given at least one opioid prescription in 2015 — and dental practitioners wrote 30% of the prescriptions.

Warning signs of opioid abuse were shown in the 6.9% of patients who received another opioid prescription three months to one year later. The number of opioid abuse diagnoses was higher among female patients.

There are continuous issues with medications in today’s society– in both abuse and medication errors, with 7,000 Americans dying every year due to medication errors. The researchers behind the study are urging dental practitioners to think twice before prescribing opioids to young adults for acute dental procedures.

According to researcher Alan Schroeder, a pediatrician and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, “Given the gravity of the opioid epidemic, the degree of persistent use and abuse we observed in adolescents and young adults, especially females, is alarming. Our findings should trigger heightened scrutiny over the frequency of prescribing dental opioids.”

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