Opioids are analgesics that have potential for misuse, abuse or addiction. Up to an estimated 23 percent of prescribed doses are used nonmedically. As prescribers of 12 percent of immediate-release (IR) opioids in the United States, dentists can minimize the potential for misuse or abuse.
The authors participated in a two-day meeting in March 2010 cohosted by Tufts Health Care Institute Program on Opioid Risk Management, Boston, and Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Boston. The purpose of the meeting was to synthesize available opioid abuse literature and data from a 2010 survey regarding West Virginia dentists’ analgesic prescribing practices, identify dentists’ roles in prescribing opioids that are used nonmedically, highlight practices that dentists can implement and identify research gaps.
Dentists can play a role in minimizing opioid abuse through patient education, careful patient assessment and referral for substance abuse treatment when indicated, and using tools such as prescription monitoring programs. Research is needed to determine the optimal number of doses needed to treat dental-related pain.
Dentists cannot assume that their prescribing of opioids does not affect the opioid abuse problem in the United States. The authors suggest that dentists, along with other prescribers, take steps to identify problems and minimize prescription opioid abuse through greater prescriber and patient education; use of peer-reviewed recommendations for analgesia; and, when indicated, the tailoring of the appropriate and legitimate prescribing of opioids to adequately treat pain. Practice Implications. The authors encourage dentists to incorporate practical safeguards when prescribing opioids, consistently educate patients about how to secure unused opioids properly, screen patients for substance use disorders and develop a referral network for the treatment of substance use disorders.