In light of the recent, tragic death of singing, superstar, Whitney Houston, dentists must rethink their practice of prescribing addictive pain medication to patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control, prescription drug abuse is classified as an epidemic. Studies show that teens perceive prescription medication use as safer, less addictive and less risky than using illegal drugs. After all, if the dentist or doctor prescribed medication for the parent, the medication must be safe. This is a terrible misconception! The CDC states that an addiction to a drug starts with belief that the drug is safe.
Dentists are the third leading prescriber of opioid painkiller medications in the United States. Dentists need to be aware of the possibility of drug abuse each and every time a prescription is written. Dentists have a duty to understand which patients can safely be prescribed addictive pain medication, what dental procedures call for such medications and appropriate dosage levels. Finally, and most importantly, dentists must be willing to say “no” to a patient who appears to be abusing prescription medication even if saying “no” means losing the individual as a patient.
Dentists must encourage patients to destroy leftover painkillers. Sometimes a dentist will come to know that a patient’s relative or child is at risk for substance abuse. In this case, the dentist must be very aware of dosage levels.
The good news is, we can all be part of the solution. If a patient suspects another family member or partner may be at risk of addiction, then the patient must secure the medication in a safe place. Leftover medications must never, ever be “saved for later”. Immediately, destroy unused medications. In addition, ask the dentist to limit the number of pills prescribed to just enough for a few days. Finally, before taking a prescription, ask the dentist if an over-the-counter medication will control the discomfort. Often, ibuprofen or Motrin will provide enough pain relief until the tooth can be treated.
Fortunately, there are organizations and information available that dental offices may consult to check on patients who might be at risk. The staff at Summerhills Dental Care, serving patients in the Citrus Heights, Sacramento, Orangevale, North Highlands, Roseville and Antelope areas regularly consult with pharmacists to ascertain such data.
Dentists and patients can do a lot to prevent prescription drug abuse. Let’s work together so that prescription medications are used for the right reasons and do not get into the hands of vulnerable individuals.
Gary P . Clusserath, DMD