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Painkiller Medications Prescribed After Wisdom-Tooth Extractions Have Been Contributing To The Opioid Epidemic

A majority of injury-related that occur in the United States are more than often a result of drug overdoses. Between 1999 and 2013, drug overdose-related mortality rates were twice as much as they had been back in 2013. A record-setting number of 33,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses back in 2015. It turns out that the opioid analgesics that dentists have been prescribing, especially to patients who have undergone wisdom-tooth extractions, have been a major contributor to this rise in drug overdose-related mortalities.

A study was recently published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which reveals that approximately 100 million opioid pills that dentists prescribe after the extract of wisdom teeth are eventually not used for their intended purpose. The fact that they go unused means that the patients themselves or anyone who gains access to these drugs is able to abuse and misuse them. Just last year in 2016, 3.5 million young Americans became addicted to opioid drugs after abusing and misusing the pills they had received following a wisdom-tooth extraction.

The study that was published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence was co-authored by Elliot Hersh of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. According to him, patients actually prefer to keep their unused opioid painkillers, in case they may need to use them again some day. Apparently, they feel that those unused medications may come in handy if they or someone they know experiencing pain. Unfortunately, not only is this illegal, this increases the likelihood of the medications getting misused. Even drug take-back days at specific venues all over the United States have been hosted by the DEA to ensure that unused opioid drugs are appropriately disposed off.

After wisdom-tooth extractions, narcotic pain medications are often prescribed to last up to 30 days. However, prescribing 2 weeks of narcotic pain medications should actually be more than enough for someone who has had their wisdom teeth or tooth extracted. According to an estimate from 2016, dentists who performed third-molar extractions on patients, between the ages of 14 and 17, prescribed opioid pain medications to 61% of them. Some studies from 2016 even revealed that there alternatives are actually available that are not only more effective than, but also much safer and not addictive like the painkillers that dentists currently prescribe.

This raises the question why dentists continue to prescribe these narcotic pain medications, despite their addictive nature. The study from Drug and Alcohol Dependence also revealed that patients can be encouraged and prompted to get rid of their unused prescription painkiller medications, which had been prescribed by their clinician, dentist or other primary care provider.

A record of controlled substances can be enforced if dentists refer to a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) prior to prescribing and dispensing opioid medications to patients. Financial incentive as a part of a pharmacy-based program, like that investigated in this latest study, can also prove to be effective. Out of all the patients that were studies, between 30% and 52% of them either disposed off their unused pills or were willing to do it when they were offered in-store credit through a pharmacy-based disposal program.

There is no doubt the drug epidemic plaguing the nation has been catalyzed by prescription opioids. However, these drugs will apparently continue to be prescribed simply because people apparently need them. The general belief is that people need to educated to become more health literate, so they may understand the dangers of abusing and misusing these medications.


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