American dentists scale back opioid prescriptions amid addiction crisis

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Dentists in America are trying to scale back the provision of opioid prescriptions amid fears of an addiction crisis.

James Hatzell, from New Jersey, is just one of many patients who has become addicted to painkillers after taking them following a dental procedure. Mr Hatzell, who was a teenager when he was first advised to take opioids after having his wisdom tooth removed, said that the addiction turned his life upside down. He remembers the day he had his tooth extracted clearly. On the way to the clinic, he wasn’t apprehensive, as most patients would be. Instead, he was looking forward to having the painful tooth taken out. He felt slightly uneasy about sitting in the dental chair, but friends had reassured him that he would be fine thanks to the little bottle of pills his dentist would provide.

Hatzell had experienced taking drugs before, but he was always cautious before the day he had dental treatment and was prescribed his own supply. Previously, he had experimented with friends who had found the odd extra pill lying around at home, but that trip to the dentist changed his life forever. It somehow felt alright that he was taking the pills because they came from a dentist, even though he knew they were meant for temporary use for pain relief, rather than for long-term recreational use. Shortly after he received that first prescription, Hatzell was arrested for dealing drugs at college, and he recalls the next few years as a nightmare for both him and his family.

A study, which was published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, revealed that dentists prescribed around 12 percent of fast-acting opioids like Vicodin. Almost a quarter of opioids are not used for medical reasons in the US.

Oral and maxillofacial expert, Dr Joel Funari, said that there has been a shift towards prescribing smaller doses, and dentists across the country are trying to scale down the provision of common opioids. In years gone by, patients would leave the dental chair with a bottle of 30 tablets, but dentists are now making a conscious effort to avoid “excessive prescribing.” Dr Funari is a member of a group put together by Pennsylvania’s health board to determine more effective ways of treating patients with dental pain, and he believes that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs offer a less dangerous alternative.

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