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The dentist’s role in fighting the opioid epidemic

For the second year in a row, the U.S. life expectancy has declined, and the ongoing opioid epidemic is at least partly to blame, according to a report published in December 2017 by the National Center for Health Statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates tied to drug overdoses climbed 18 percent each year
between 2014 and 2016. Over 63,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, with adults between 25–54 years old being the most likely victims.

Up to 23 percent of prescribed opioids are used for non-medical purposes, according to a July 2011 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). Dentists prescribe nearly 12 percent of immediate-release opioids used in the United States, second only to family medicine physicians.

There are times when legitimate medical needs call for the use of opioid analgesics, but dentists must take care to prescribe judiciously. Through patient education and careful assessment, we can help minimize misuse and abuse of these drugs. The following lessons can be used to aid in the management of patients who request or require opioid drugs.

Lesson 1: Recognizing drug-seeking behavior is the first step.

Recognizing drug-seeking behavior is the first step in minimizing drug abuse. The following are some warning signs to look out for:

  • A new patient who claims to have recently moved or is traveling
  • Calls after-hours or near closing
  • Reluctance to provide information about current doctor or dentist
  • Knowledge of specific conditions
  • Requests certain drugs by name
  • Claims of allergy to other non-opioid analgesics
  • Exaggerated pain
  • Claims of lost or stolen prescription

Read about five more things dentists need to know when it comes to prescribing opioids in the April issue of Contour.

~Shruti Gandhi, Michigan ’19

Shruti Gandhi

Shruti Gandhi is a third-year student at University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

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