Study to explore alternative to opioids in dentistry

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Study to explore alternative to opioids in dentistry


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A new study may offer an alternative to opioids for pain relief and thus help reduce the high levels of opioid abuse in the U.S. (Photograph: Phil Lowe/Shutterstock)

Fri. 11. October 2019


NEWARK, N.J., U.S.: Owing to the pain management benefits of this class of drugs, the opioid overdose epidemic persists in the U.S., and various studies have indicated that dentists are among the key prescribers of opioids. In the hope of reducing opioid dependence and abuse, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has recently awarded the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine a substantial grant to enable scientists to study the combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen as an opioid alternative.

The $11.7 million (€10.6 million) grant will support the researchers for up to six years. Although some studies have already investigated the effectiveness of the two medications in treating pain, the current study will focus on the long-term effectiveness of the medications and will involve 1,800 participants. Study participants will be dental school patients who will be prescribed analgesics after molar extractions. The participants will be followed for up to seven days post-surgery.

“We want, as much as possible, to duplicate real-life conditions in the clinic,” said lead researcher Prof. Cecile A. Feldman, dean of the school. Feldman believes that dental clinics provide the ideal setting for opioid research, since the rate at which dentists and oral surgeons prescribe the drugs is considerably high. “A large part of our job is managing acute and chronic pain,” Feldman noted.

In the study, half of the subjects will receive a compound of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, known as Vicodin, while the other half will be treated with acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They will then keep a log tracking their level of pain, self-dosages and common opioid side effects, such as nausea and poor sleep quality, for seven days.

“The pain isn’t the only thing you need to take into consideration,” said Feldman. “People will put up with a slightly higher level of pain if they can avoid side effects and have a higher quality of life during the recovery period.”

The researchers will also track future opioid use to see if the participants who had received opioids were more likely to use or abuse them over time. In pilot studies, patients who had received ibuprofen and acetaminophen experienced similar levels of pain reduction and reported fewer side effects compared with patients who had received opioids.

“We’re very hopeful that the results of our research could significantly reduce America’s epidemic levels of opioid abuse while still providing relief from pain,” Feldman concluded.

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