Unused Opioids from Dental Surgery


If you have been working a program of recovery, it is likely that you have heard that dentist offices are a place where you need to be careful. While most people associate prescription opioid painkillers with doctors’ offices, it is a fact that dentists commonly prescribe drugs like Vicodin and Percocet. Such drugs are often doled out to patients who have had a dental surgery of one kind or another.

People who abuse drugs and/or alcohol for years, rarely make dental hygiene a priority. Those who find addiction recovery typically have several problems inside their mouth, which can require surgery. In fact, fixing the problems of one’s mouth is usually on the top of recovery addicts and alcoholics list of things that they would like to take care upon finding sobriety. Which, to be sure, is a good thing. However, it is vital that you explain to your dentist that you have a history of addiction, because if you do require a surgical procedure, there is a high likelihood that you will be prescribed an opioid.

That is not to say that people in recovery cannot take pain medication for legitimate pain. It just means that people in recovery who are prescribed such drugs need to have a plan in place to mitigate the risk of unintended use and relapse. It is always a good practice for people in recovery to give their prescription to a family member or someone in the program who has significant sober time. They can dole out your medicine to you as it was prescribed to ensure that intended use does not become unintended abuse. Dental work is supposed to improve the quality of one’s life, rather than be a source of regression.

It is no secret that dental pain is some of the most excruciating of all discomforts, and without pain medicine it can be unbearable. While dental patients may need opioids for their pain, it turns out that such medications are being overprescribed, potentially contributing to the American opioid epidemic. In fact, a new study found that not only are prescription painkillers prescribed in scores to American dental patients, many of the drugs go unused which could provoke medication diversion, HealthDay reports. The findings were published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“When translated to the broad U.S. population, our findings suggest that more than 100 million opioid pills prescribed to patients following surgical removal of impacted wisdom teeth are not used, leaving the door open for possible abuse or misuse by patients, or their friends or family,” said study author Dr. Brandon Maughan. 

When prescription opioids go unused, it is paramount that the pills are disposed of properly, lest they end up in the wrong hands. The epidemic we face is dire, and many Americans are unaware of their options for safe disposal, creating opportunities for those types of drugs to be abused and potentially lead to an overdose. The researchers found that when dental patients were given information about safe disposal programs, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of patients who safely disposed of their unwanted or unused opioids.

“Given the increasing concern about prescription opioid abuse in the United States, all prescribers — including physicians, oral surgeons and dental clinicians — have a responsibility to limit opioid exposure, to explain the risks of opioid misuse, and educate patients on proper drug disposal,” said Maughan.

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