Overprescribing opens doors to addiction

According to research from the University of Michigan, people ages 13 to 30 who filled an opioid prescription prior to or immediately after wisdom teeth removal are 2.7 times more likely than their peers to be filling opioid prescriptions weeks or months later, indicating misuse or abuse. 

Blot graphic by Julia Perconti and Adriana Poznanski

According to research from the University of Michigan, people ages 13 to 30 who filled an opioid prescription prior to or immediately after wisdom teeth removal are 2.7 times more likely than their peers to be filling opioid prescriptions weeks or months later, indicating misuse or abuse. 

Sally Ehlers

Senior Erin Palmer of Tinton Falls may no longer have wisdom teeth, but she has almost an entire bottle of Vicodin, an opioid narcotic medication, lurking in her medicine cabinet. Palmer is responsibly awaiting the opportunity to properly dispose of her unneeded medicine at a pharmacy’s take-back program, but not everyone follows this path.

According to research from the University of Michigan, people ages 13 to 30 who filled an opioid prescription prior to or immediately after wisdom teeth removal are 2.7 times more likely than their peers to be filling opioid prescriptions weeks or months later, indicating misuse or abuse. 

Senior Riley Brennan of Manasquan considered the risk of addiction to opiates after her wisdom teeth removal surgery. Although her dentist prescribed her acetaminophen with codeine, she was wary of using them.

“I didn’t take any,” Brennan said. “It sat in my medicine cabinet and I looked at it in fear.”

 Palmer believes that the overprescription of opiates can be potentially dangerous due to the risk of addiction, and doctors should take a different approach to prescribing these pills.

“I think it would be better if doctors gave out smaller amounts of opioids and if necessary, people could get the prescription filled again,” Palmer said.

Experts are beginning to consider alternative options to prescribing opioids after dental surgeries. According to an April 2018 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association, anti-inflammatory analgesics such as ibuprofen often work better than opioids to soothe acute dental pain. 

“Dentists and oral surgeons are the number one prescribers of opioids to teenagers,” Andrew Kolodny, who co-directs opioid treatment research at Brandeis University, said to the Washington Post. “What’s so disturbing is that it’s so unnecessary. These are kids who could have gotten Advil and Tylenol.”

For those prescribed opioids, it is important to follow the recommended dosages and err on the side of caution. For Brennan, this meant not taking any of her medication after her wisdom teeth removal surgery, despite the pain.

“I was in a great deal of pain for three days, but that’s better than being addicted to opiates my entire life,” Brennan said.

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