ADA to Join the Fight Against the Opioid Epidemic
Many of us know by now that America is in the midst of a serious opioid epidemic. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 116 people died daily in 2016 from overdoses related to opioids — and it’s estimated that more than 40 percent of those deaths were related to a prescription opioid. This epidemic was declared a public health crisis in 2017, which prompted doctors and others who prescribe opioid painkillers to reevaluate their prescribing practices. This year, the American Dental Association (ADA) joins the fight as well.
Opioids in Dentistry
Dental procedures can be painful. Almost no one wants to face the prospect of a root canal or a wisdom tooth extraction without some pain medication to take the edge off. While dentists are encouraged to offer nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medications as the first line of defense when it comes to dentistry related pain, some procedures require more — and they can prescribe opioid pain relievers in these cases.
It is smart for the ADA to get on board with fixing the opioid crisis. Polls suggest that about one-third of people have chosen to forgo visiting the dentist for at least a year. If the ADA gets wrapped up in the over-prescribing epidemic that we’ve seen with many of the big pharma companies, that kind of negative conversation surrounding the ADA could even further deter patients who already don’t prioritize dental hygiene.
It is very possible that patients will begin avoiding the dentist for fear of becoming victims of this crisis. This can have detrimental effects to their health, though. Dental health affects way more than we may realize. People with healthy teeth are actually up to 20 percent more successful than those with unhealthy or damaged teeth. So it’s important that people continue to visit their dentists. But the concern about the growing opioid epidemic means dentists have to change their tune when it comes to opioid prescriptions.
Changes to ADA Policy
The ADA is changing the way they look at opioid prescribing practices, including changing the way prescribing dentists receive education. Dental professionals are now all but required to continue their education, at least when it comes to opioid prescribing techniques. The ADA provides free webinars for practicing dentists to aid them in making correct choices when it comes to the use of these pain medications.
The ADA also suggests that prescription opioids be limited to a 7-day supply for acute conditions — chronic dental pain will have to be assessed on a case by case basis, but for most patients, a 7-day supply is more than enough to allow the body to heal and the pain from a dental procedure to cease.
For states that offer it, using the state’s prescription drug monitoring program is also a good option. It allows anyone who prescribes opioids to check a patient’s prescription history to see if they receive opioids from multiple sources. This doesn’t always mean the patient is trying to doctor-shop for pills, but it can be a great tool to allow doctors and dentists to weed out the patients that are.
Some dentists offer alternatives to opioid painkillers, in the form of over-the-counter medication available at any pharmacy or grocery store. One dentist recommends taking 1,000 mg of Tylenol along with 800mg of ibuprofen. Together, they act much the same way some opioid painkillers do, without the risk of addiction or abuse.
Alternatives aren’t the solution everyone wants to hear and will not be the perfect fix for the opioid epidemic, but it’s a step in the right direction. With roughly 12 percent of opioid prescriptions written by dentists, the dental profession is a good place to start, and the ADA is starting to take the necessary steps to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions issued every year, as well as preventing people from using their local dentist as a source of opioids.
Reducing Addiction to Save Lives
Opioids are a threat to public health and wellbeing, and it is not solvable overnight or with one sweeping legislation. Instead, it will take hundreds of healthcare providers, from doctors to dentists and everyone in between, taking small steps to limit opioid use across the board. It’s like the old fable of the Tortoise and the Hare — to reduce addiction and save lives, a slow and steady mentality is required across the board.