The Effects of the Opioid Epidemic in Dentistry

Written by Heather Siler

The first use of opioids goes back as early as 3400 B.C. and was given for pain management, illnesses, and anxiety. The need for opioids has always been present, and the problem with this treatment regarding abuse and addiction has also remained. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have tried to develop effective drugs safely with little risk of abuse or addiction without much success of introducing a safer alternative.

In 2017, the U.S. Departement of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency directly related to addiction and fatal overdosing because of misuse of prescription and non-prescription opioids. More than 42,000 deaths were the result of an opioid overdose in 2016, and 40% of those deaths were the consequence of a prescription opioid. Even the President of the United States has gotten involved with the war on Opioid misuse, and as a result of this growing crisis, the American Dental Association (ADA) has announced a new opioid policy.

This new policy presented by the ADA is as follows:

  1. “The ADA supports mandatory continuing education in prescribing opioids and other controlled substances.” It’s also recommended that the entire dental team becomes involved with this continuing education.
  2. “The ADA supports statutory limits on opioid dosage and duration of no more than seven days for the treatment of acute pain.” This statement is consistent with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Most dental pain is of an acute nature, and studies have shown that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are as effective or even more effective than opioids in the treatment of acute dental pain.
  3. “The ADA supports dentists registering with and using prescription drug monitoring programs to promote the appropriate use of opioids and deter misuse and abuse.” Programs are available to dentists which monitor prescription drugs and patients who may try to abuse the system.

Although dentists comprise a small fraction of the total prescriptions of opioids written, the ADA fully intends to make practitioners aware of the epidemic and play their part in managing the war on abuse and death due to overuse.