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Study: Dental opioid prescriptions may contribute to later use, abuse

December 05, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

Adolescents and young adults who develop opioid abuse problems may be first exposed to the drug by dentists, according to a study released Dec. 3 by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Authors of the study compared private insurance claims data from 2015 for a group of 14,888 opioid exposed 16-25 year olds who received the opioid prescription from a dentist and 29,776 in a control group who did not receive an opioid prescription.  They also documented that there were 67,671 16-25 year olds whose first opioid prescription was not from a dentist.  Among those that those who had an opioid prescription from a dentist, there was a 6.8 percent greater risk of persistent opioid use and a 5.3 percent greater risk of subsequent diagnosis of opioid abuse compared to the those who did not receive an opioid prescription.

The data reviewed did not include the reason for the opioid prescription, but the authors concluded "the findings suggest that dental opioid prescriptions, which may be driven by third molar extractions in this age group, may be associated with subsequent opioid use and opioid abuse," write the authors, led by Alan Schroeder, M.D., of the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The authors note several study limitations, including having relied on diagnosis codes. The full list of codes has not been validated with medical record review, the authors note, so misclassification may have occurred.

The authors conclude by calling for heightened scrutiny regarding third molar extractions and opioid prescriptions associated with postoperative care.

Read the full article, "Association of Opioid Prescriptions From Dental Clinicians for U.S. Adolescents and Youth Adults with Subsequent Opioid Use and Abuse," online. Find the link on ADA.org by searching for the headline of this article.

Read about ADA’s efforts to help end opioid abuse.