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Many dentists still prescribe opioid painkillers to patients, study says

By HealthDay News
Many dentists still prescribe opioid painkillers to patients, study says
While dentists say non-opioid painkillers are generally effective for pain following procedures, many continue to prescribe opioids for their patients, according to a new study. Photo by Milenafoto/Wikimedia Commons

Though most U.S. dentists say non-opioid painkillers effectively manage dental pain, nearly half still prescribe potentially addictive opioid painkillers, a new survey reveals.

In all, 84% of the 269 respondents said NSAID-acetaminophen combos are as effective as opioids or even more so, but 43% also said they regularly prescribe opioid medications.

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The findings were published Thursday in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

"These results suggest that dentists are familiar with the evidence about the effectiveness of NSAID-acetaminophen medications, but their self-reported prescribing patterns demonstrate a disconnect," first author Matthew Heron said in a Georgetown news release.

RELATED Dentists over-prescribe opioid painkillers following procedures

Heron conducted the study as an undergraduate at Georgetown University's School of Nursing and Health Studies in Washington, D.C.

Previous studies have found that dentists represent 8.6% of opioid prescribers in the United States, and are the biggest prescribers of opioids to patients 18 and younger.

"We know that the first exposure to opioids for many people occurs in their teens and early 20s following common dental procedures like third molar extractions," said study co-author Nkechi Nwokorie, who also conducted the work as a Georgetown undergrad.

RELATED Study: Laws that limit opioid prescription duration help cut length of use

"This is a particularly vulnerable population for misuse," Nwokorie said.

Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman is director of PharmedOut, a Georgetown project that was involved in the study.

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"This underscores the need for more education about the harms of opioids and the need for national guidelines to align clinical practice with current evidence," she said. Fugh-Berman is also a professor in the departments of pharmacology, physiology and family medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center.

RELATED U.S. dentists prescribe 37 times more opioids than in England, study says

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription opioids.

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