There is a newly recognized national epidemic, and dentists are doing their best to prevent more casualties. The killer is not a virus, but the addiction to opioid pain medication.
Opioids are painkillers such as morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone, sold under brand names such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percodan and Demerol.
In the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies promoted opioids for pain relief and assured health providers that patients would not become addicted. In 2016 opioid overdoses were responsible for more than 42,000 deaths, and 40 percent involved a prescription opioid.
Dentists who prescribe opiates now are required to take courses in pain management and identification of addiction, with at least two hours of education in the practices of prescribing or dispensing of opioids.
Knowing the risk and danger of opioid addiction is not enough. The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 191 of 2014 that established the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, which collects information about controlled drugs that are dispensed to patients within the state. As a result of the PDMP a dentist writhing a prescription for an opioid can use a computer to log into a data base and look up the patient to determine if the person is abusing opioid medication.
Fortunately, health care providers have a safe alternative to opioids for patients in pain.
Studies have confirmed that for severe pain of short duration, a combination of ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) taken at the same time is as potent as opioid medication.
Fortunately for me, as a dentist who restores mouths and rebuilds smiles with fillings, crowns and implants, there is little to no pain after the procedure.
In the rare case of pain, my patients have gotten relief using the Advil Tylenol combination.
It’s time no more unsuspecting patients become addicted to opioids just by following their doctor’s orders.