Dentists need to take more action to combat the opioid epidemic, says expert


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In a recent discussion Dental Tribune International had with an expert on the opioid epidemic, the role dentists play in combating the problem was front and center. (Image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

Thu. 12. March 2020


PITTSBURGH, U.S.: In a recent study on opioids reported by Dental Tribune International (DTI), researchers found that the overprescribing by dentists in the U.S. was common, particularly for patients at high risk of substance abuse. In the study, the team used Truven Health MarketScan Research Databases to assess close to 550,000 dental visits by adult patients between 2011 and 2015. From that, they were able to attain their results.

In an in-depth discussion with the study’s lead author, Prof. Katie J. Suda from the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Suda gave more insight into her work and described some possible measures to combat the issue.

Speaking to DTI about the confronting statistics and what could be done to curb the trend of overprescription, Suda said that there was a lack of resources and tools to help dentists in the area of pain mitigation. She added that, if there were better tools in place, dentists could be influential in being part of the solution to the opioid epidemic. She said, “Similarly to medical providers, dentists need to have resources to aid them in their prescribing decisions for pain medications. These should include clinical guidelines specific to oral health and education on how to talk to their patients about treating their oral pain.”

The establishment of guidelines is one of the significant issues around opioid prescription across the medical and dental fields, and surgeons at Baylor Scott & White Health hospitals, a large health care system in Texas, recently implemented a pain management program that reduced longer-term opioid prescriptions by two-thirds. That kind of initiative is something Suda believes dentists also need to adopt. “In the interim, individual dentists can implement their own practice-specific guidelines. For example, all patients without a contraindication could receive ibuprofen and acetaminophen post-extraction. Only low-potency opioids could be prescribed, for example acetaminophen with codeine instead of oxycodone.”

How the problem has reached these proportions is unclear, but Suda was quick to note that, although dentists are involved in the opioid epidemic, the epidemic is not their fault. “There are many causes of the opioid epidemic and dentists are only one prescriber group,” she said. However, Suda pointed out that there has been no lack of information to help dentists understand the epidemic better. Public health and professional organizations have disseminated information widely, and the American Dental Association has provided educational programming and literature summaries relevant to oral pain on group email lists as well as implemented a policy to combat the issue. In conclusion, Suda said: “Dentists should also check their local prescription drug monitoring program before they write a prescription for any opioid.”

Dentistry Opioids Oral health

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