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Teenagers and young adults that receive initial opioid prescriptions from dentists or oral surgeons are at an increased risk for opioid addiction.

A recent study by Stanford University School of Medicine examined opiate use and abuse in the US. They found that among the nearly 15,000 young people who received an initial opioid prescription from a dentist, a significant percentage of them later developed an addiction.


6.8% of patients had additional opioids prescribed 90-365 days later, and 5.8% were diagnosed with opioid abuse within a year after their initial prescription. By comparison, youth that did not get an opioid prescription from their dentist only 1% got another prescription and 0.4% were diagnosed with an opiate addiction.


The study began by studying the risks of wisdom tooth extraction. This is a common dental surgery in teens and young adults, often an elective one. Many patients are prescribed painkillers after to manage the pain.


The study’s lead author, Alan Schroeder, said: “This work raises two really important related but separate questions: Do we need opioids, and do we need the procedure?”


75% of the opioid prescriptions were for hydrocodone-acetaminophen. These are commonly sold under brand names like Lortab, Norco, or Vicodin. The youngest patients, (aged 16-18) were the most at risk. The study found that they were significantly more likely to have persistent opioid use than the oldest patients (22-25). Female patients had a higher risk, while those who identified as Asian were the least likely.


Schroeder says further follow research is needed to determine whether opioids are the safest method for treating pain post-dental surgery. “I think we should ask, No. 1, Why are we prescribing such a high quantity of opioids so frequently? And No. 2, Are all the procedures that are driving these opioid prescriptions necessary?” he said.


If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, please contact us today. We offer a range of treatment methods that can help.