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Wisdom Teeth Surgery & Teenage Opioid Addiction

Wisdom Teeth Surgery & Teenage Opioid Addiction

Studies link opioid prescriptions to resulting opioid abuse in adolescents

Each year, over 5 million wisdom teeth extractions are performed. Most individuals undergo this surgery in high school or college. Scientifically, this is the best option because recovery is easier and less complicated at a younger age. However, while the body can better heal in ages 17-25, there still stands a risk for individuals in this age-group: Opioid addiction. It may seem trivial, but a link has been found between opioid prescriptions and resulting opioid abuse. As a result, medical professionals are calling for limits on opioids post wisdom teeth surgery.

Journal of the American Dental Association concluded that dentists prescribe 12% of painkilling opioids, just behind family doctors, who prescribe 15%. In this study, the authors cited a staggering statistic. In 2004, 85% of 563 oral surgeons prescribed opioids after wisdom teeth surgery.

Dr. Randy Sanovich is a facial cosmetic, oral and reconstructive surgeon based in Dallas, Texas. He often performs routine wisdom teeth surgery. In an interview with Dallas Surgical Arts, Sanovich explains why he chooses to not prescribe opioids, especially to his adolescent patients.

“Approximately 5 million wisdom tooth extractions are performed each year, and the majority of those extractions are done on teenagers and young adults. It’s an impressionable age group whose brains are not fully developed. Adding opioids to the mix can be a very dangerous combination” Sanovich said.

Research is proving Sanovich correct. According to studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association and Pediatrics journal, prescribed opioid use makes teens significantly more likely to abuse opioids later on.

NPR featured a story in which research predicted reality; at 17, James Hatzell received a prescription for opioids and soon became addicted.

Hatzell explained that before his surgery he was always cautious, even a little afraid, of narcotics. However, when he received his own prescription from his doctor, opioids appeared more legitimate and less dangerous. According to Health and Human Services, perscriptions are often adolescents’ first exposure to opioid. Why should he worry about a substance his doctor prescribed?

After his surgery, Hatzell was excited to take his new medication. His mother, nervous about her son’s enthusiasm, decided to hide Hatzell’s pills so that he would not abuse them. Sadly, Hatzell found them anyway. This event marked Hatzell’s descent into opioid addiction.

Hatzell continued down his path and was arrested in college for dealing drugs. In 2014, he began the recovery process. In 2017, three years into his opioid recovery, Hatzell became a technology officer at a college addiction treatment program.

Hatzell’s story could have gone a million different directions.

  • If he had never become addicted…
  • If he had never found his hidden prescription…
  • If his doctor had not prescribed opioids…
  • If he had died due to opioid overdose…

Dentists are already beginning to limit their opioid prescriptions. Instead, many are choosing to prescribe a combination of over-the-counter drugs. However, as a parent, you can also do something to prevent this reality. If your child is undergoing surgery soon, here are some things to keep in mind.

What can parents do?

  • Review your child’s prescriptions. Know what medications your child’s dentist is prescribing and if it is classified as an opioid or non-opioid.
  • Discuss with your child’s dentist whether opioids are essential for your child’s recovery. Ask about other alternative they would suggest. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs– Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Acetaminophen can be more effective than narcotics.
  • Keep track of your child’s medication. If your child is prescribed opioids, follow prescription instructions and dispense tablets when directed. If any tablets are left over, drop off the remaining medication at your local pharmacy for proper disposal. This is crucial as left over opioids can be misused.
  • Create an open dialogue. Talk to your children about the facts and risks associated with opioid use. Let them know they can turn to you if they have experienced or witnessed drug misuse.

Opioid use may seem like a rite of passage for some teens. Like Hatzell, they may look forward to their own ‘medically-verified’ narcotic. But, we know these substances are particularly dangerous for young and developing brains. Dentists are starting to do their part to curb America’s opioid addiction. As a parent, it is important to understand the risks as well so that this ‘coming-of-age’ story is not repeated.

Ciera DuBan