The American Dental Association issued new guidelines for prescribing opioids Monday. Dentists in Oregon say they’ll be adopting them as soon as possible.
For years, many dentists have regarded the opioid epidemic as a problem largely for medical doctors. After all, physicians often prescribe painkillers for patients struggling with chronic pain that can last years. On the other hand, dentists usually only prescribe medications for a few days. An example might be for a patient recovering from oral surgery. But a recent study found dentists are the leading opioid prescribers for young people ages 10-19, many of whom get their first experience with opioids when having their wisdom teeth out. “Brains continue to develop until about age 25 and during that period in a young person, their brain is more susceptible to remembering that first exposure to anything, such as a narcotic. And that creates more potential for misuse later," said Dr. Bruce Austin, dental director for the Oregon Health Authority. Oregon's new opioid prescribing guidelines say most patients only need about 10 pills after oral surgery — or three days worth of pain relief. In the past, it wasn’t unusual to be prescribed 30 pills, or 10 days worth.