New N.J., Pa. initiatives focus on helping dentists prevent opioid misuse



    Dentists are among the leading prescribers of opioids such as Vicodin. Amid a growing prescription drug epidemic, a spate of new initiatives in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is taking aim at preventing the misuse of those drugs.

    New Jersey’s largest dental association released new prescribing guidelines this month. They never had any before. Dr. Elisa Velazquez, a pediatric dentist in Ocean County, said one aim is to educate dentists on the risks of prescription drug misuse and on being mindful of what’s appropriate.

    “Because, remember, we’re dealing with acute pain. It’s painful right now, and maybe for the next couple days, so you don’t need [to write] a month’s worth of pain medication,” she said.

    That’s especially important, according to the group, because for the many young adults who get their wisdom teeth out each year, that prescription may very well be their first experience with an opioid.

    The guidelines also stress that anti-inflammatory drugs — including ibuprofen and acetaminophen — may be safer and more effective for dealing with dental pain.

    “We want people to be aware of alternatives,” said Velazquez. “So what are the alternatives for opioids? Or, maybe, how you can couple them together?”

    Nationwide, opioids have been a main driver of drug overdoses. New Jersey tracked more than 1,000 related deaths in 2014.

    Pennsylvania, meanwhile, came out with guidelines for dentists in 2014. This month, the commonwealth enacted a new law requiring additional opioid education for dentists and other doctors, effective next year.

    For more on this topic, tune into The Pulse on Dec. 9.

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