Let’s Not Forget the Opioid Epidemic


By Helen Varvi, Deputy Director

Talk about keeping multiple balls in the air – in addition to managing the spread of Covid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues their work of tracking and identifying trends related to substance misuse.CDC researchers conducted a recent study that tracked prescribing data for patients visiting targeted Emergency Departments (ED) for dental related conditions over a two-year period. 

The results, released in February of this year, showed a need for continued efforts to address overprescribing of opioid painkillers and antibiotics.Findings showed that 40% of ED dental patients filled a prescription for an opioid painkillers, primarily OxyContin; 50% were prescribed antibiotics and 30% were prescribed both.

In a follow-up article in the Journal of the American Dental Association, it was noted that ED visits are often not necessary for dental-related conditions such as toothaches, especially when opioid prescriptions are the result.The ADA is also trying to raise awareness about, and take action against, the opioid abuse crisis in the United States.Steps include raising awareness and educating dentists about alternatives to prescription opioid painkillers, such as the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alone or in combination with acetaminophen (Tylenol) as a first-line therapy for pain management. In 2018, the ADA adopted a policy advocating that a combination of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and acetaminophen can be just as effective as prescription opioids for acute pain.

The ADA is also reminding dental patients that they play an important role in stopping the opioid abuse epidemic.Dental patients should work cooperatively with their dentist to determine the best course of action for them.They are encouraged to regularly update their health history forms, inform their dentist about medications they are currently taking and to ask questions. Patients are also encouraged to disclose if they, or anyone else in their family, are in recovery or have struggled with addition in the past.

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