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Utah program helps dentists understand addiction in themselves and others

April 09, 2012

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

Salt Lake City—Getting people to attend the University of Utah School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies can be a tough sell especially at a time of economic hardship.

Many people don’t think drug and alcohol addiction affects them, said Dr. John Murray, a New Jersey dentist who helps lead the dental section at the annual six-day school at the University of Utah, scheduled for June 17-22. But Dr. Murray believes almost everybody has somebody in his or her family or a friend or a colleague who has experience with substance abuse.

Dr. Murray

“A lot of what’s current in the field is being discussed during this time in Utah,” Dr. Murray said.

The school, which also has pharmacy, nursing and physician sections among others, aims to educate dentists about addiction within themselves and their colleagues, how to spot and handle it in their patients, and training and resources for interventions, treatment and professional guidance. It also helps dentists understand that not all is lost in their career and their personal lives if they seek help for drug or alcohol dependency.

“For too many years there was the stigma of 'you’re a weak-willed person and you don’t belong in the profession,’”Š” Dr. Murray said.

“Research says dentists in recovery seem to do very well provided they do everything they’re supposed to do in recovery.”

A new program this year is a session on substance abuse issues in female dental professionals.

“We haven’t done anything that’s been strictly dedicated to women in a number of years, and I think it’s something that’s been missing,” Dr. Murray said.

Dr. Bob Herzog, a peer assistance coordinator for the New York State Dental Association, will conduct a mock intervention and lead a session on professional intervention.

Patients from a nearby treatment center will also visit and participate in a counseling session that conference attendees can observe.

Dr. Murray will bring the program back to basics and do a presentation on alcoholism, something he feels has been lost amid the focus on prescription and illegal drugs.

Other programs include how to deal with governing boards in the dental industry; the status of medical marijuana; and spirituality and recovery.

“I just think the profession as a whole is trying not to ignore this anymore,” Dr. Murray said. “In areas like this, we can save some lives.”

The American Dental Association has taken an active role in supporting well-being among dentists. There is a well-being task force plan over the next three years, which includes promoting constituent and ADA dentist well-being programs and their value and staff is working with the New Dentist Committee to educate new dentists on impairment resources available to help those affected with addiction.

The ADA also received a sub-award from the American Academy of Addictive Psychiatry from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, which received a three-year grant to create webinars and training on treating pain and opioid addiction.

The ADA will hold its own series of webinars on the topic.

The ADA will also send a staff representative to the Utah school, which helps the Association design dentist well-being programs.

For information on the program and how to register, visit

Those with questions can contact Dr. Murray at, the University of Utah’s Susan Langston at, or Alison Siwek, ADA manager of dental health and wellness, at