Opioid Prescription Dangers Following Dental Surgery

Missouri dentists may be contributing to today’s fatal opioid overdose crisis, but they are also developing a possible solution.

It’s clear there is an opioid crisis. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70,000 people died across the country last year from an overdose of this group of powerful prescription painkillers. The group includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

Opioids are prescribed to treat serious pain from a variety of sources, such as injuries and surgery.  Opioids communicate to the brain to block pain in the short term.  These are powerful and potentially dangerous drugs, as they over time can change the way the brain functions.  This brain change can lead to a fatal opioid addiction.

Errors with Opioid Prescriptions

Responsible physicians and physician groups have taken steps to employ caution when prescribing opioids.  Medication errors are one of the leading types of medical errors that hurt patients.  When mistakes are made in prescribing opioids, those mistakes are too often life-altering.

Most previous efforts to curb opioid prescription abuse have focused on physicians and surgeons.  A new study brings to light how careless dentists may contribute to opioid prescription mistakes.

The study (“Association of Opioid Prescriptions from Dental Clinicians for US Adolescents and Young Adults with Subsequent Opioid Use and Abuse”), published online December 3 by JAMA Internal Medicine, examines how dentists treat patient pain following dental surgery. More specifically, the research focused on pain treatment for young dental patients following third molar extractions – commonly known as the removal of wisdom teeth.

Repeated Opioid Prescriptions Following Wisdom Teeth Surgery

Wisdom teeth surgery most often occurs between the ages of 16 to 25, so researchers examined the medical records of 754,000 people in 2015 in this age group. They considered only those who did not have an opioid prescription in the previous 12 months.

Researchers found that 13 percent were given at least one opioid prescription that year.  And of those prescriptions, nearly one third (30.6 percent) were written by dentists.

The study included these young people who were prescribed opioids for wisdom tooth surgery and a control group of same-aged individuals who received no such medication.  Researchers found that 6.9 percent of those with the opioid prescription received another prescription within 90 days to a year.  Just one-tenth of 1 percent of the control group was prescribed opioids in this subsequent time frame.

And about 5 percent of the young patients with an opioid prescription were diagnosed with a possible opioid addiction by another physician.

The Missouri Dental Board, the governmental group that oversees dentists in Missouri, has taken steps to prevent deadly issues with opioid prescriptions. It has proposed a rule to limit the length of dental opioid prescriptions, with a few exceptions, to seven days maximum.  And Missouri dentists, under the rule, would have to see a patient and conduct a thorough examination that includes screening medical history for previous addictions before prescribing the painkiller.

Some patients of course may have partial responsibility if they become addicted to opioids.  Some go out of their way to “doctor shop” and get multiple prescriptions. But when physicians and dentists know the possible fatal outcomes of opioid prescriptions, their burden is to prescribe responsibly and conduct standard follow-up procedures.

Many types of preventable medical errors – like negligent prescriptions – are potentially catastrophic for patients and their families.  If you believe you or a family member have been a victim of a serious medical mistake, contact a personal injury attorney to review your medical malpractice case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles December 21, 2018