Study shows opioid addiction can start at the dentist

Updated: Jan. 14, 2019 at 7:49 AM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A recent study states some teens and young adults get their first exposure to opioids at the dentist. The study also states 80 percent of people aged 13 to 30 who had their wisdom teeth removed filled an opioid prescription.

The report found nearly seven percent of teens and young adults who were prescribed opioids for the first time at the dentist’s office continued to take more of the drugs. More than five percent went on to abuse opioids. Right now, the U.S. is suffering through an epidemic of opioid overuse. In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017, with most of them being accidental. Officials say with so many dying at a young age, it has driven down the U.S. average life expectancy for two years in a row. Physician April Dietz with Murrells Inlet Dentistry said surgical procedures like extractions, implants and root canals are common procedures that can lead to narcotic prescriptions, if necessary. She said it’s important to note each patient has different specific needs and not all procedures require medication.

“So how we decide who gets each prescription depends on the patient, their medical history, their history with us in the past, how they’ve tolerated procedures before, the difficulty of the procedure that we’re actually doing. All of that plays a role in who gets a narcotic, or who gets just an over the counter medication. It really depends on the patient and the procedure,” said Dr. Dietz.

Many dentists have already adjusted their prescribing in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

“There has been a study that shows that 800 mg of ibuprofen with 1,500 mg of Tylenol is as affective as a narcotic. So a lot of times in our practice, what we do is prescribe the 800 mg of Motrin and we tell you to alternate that with the 500 mg of Tylenol, and usually that combats any kind of pain you have and works very well,” said Dr. Dietz.

Officials say dentists prescribe far less opioids than they did two decades ago. For example, in 1998, dentists wrote 15.5 percent of all prescriptions for short-acting opioids, such as Vicodin and Percocet. But by 2012, that number dropped to 6.4 percent.

Officials with the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness say in the past, many officials tended to underestimate how crucial the first opioid prescription can be. Dr. Dietz said many times, patients go into a procedure expecting narcotics. But that’s not always the case, as many times narcotics are not needed. She said it’s all specific to the patient and the procedure.

Dr. Dietz wants people to know there are many things we can do to combat this growing issue.

“There are a number of things we can do. Here in South Carolina, there is a South Carolina PMP aware website that you can check with. It tells you if the patient has been prescribed opioids previously, if they have any prescription for it now. Also people at home can help with this as well, locking up your medication, not sharing your medication with your friends, things like that can definitely help with this as well,” said Dr. Dietz.

Right now, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are working to encourage doctors to prescribe something other than opioids for pain. The widespread misuse of opioids affects millions of Americans every year. In 2017, two million people misused these medications for the first time.

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