By Melissa Brewer
Local dentist Dr. Susan Bracker is taking action in the face of a national addiction crisis. She has vowed to run an opioid-free clinic in an attempt to lower the number of people who first experience the addictive drug through the prescriptions dentists give out after surgery. Of the 20.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. Sadly, as of 2016, about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin.
When patients enter Dr. Bracker’s practice in Greece, the first thing they see is a sign on the door informing them of the change in procedure. Dr. Bracker believes that her small notice on the practice door is more than an indication of how that specific practice operates, but a greater sign of the times.
“I think this has affected so many people. There’s not a person out there who doesn’t know someone who has died from addiction,” Dr. Bracker told 13WHAM News.
Across the United States, overdoses from opioids have been increasing in men and women in most age groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 42,000 people died of overdoses from prescription or illicit opioids in 2016 alone.
It may seem like this addiction crisis would only affect those who struggle to manage longterm conditions, such as the six out of 10 baby boomers who are predicted to manage a chronic condition by 2030. However, a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed the unexpected risks that prescription opioids from dentists pose to teenagers.
Every year, dentists pull 10 million wisdom teeth from patients who range in age from 13 to 30. About 80% of these patients fill the opioid prescription they receive from their dental surgeon. According to the recent study from JAMA, almost 6% of patients who fill the initial prescription are diagnosed with opioid abuse a year later. Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 are among the hardest hit by the addiction.
Public health officials say that the best way to combat the crisis is to tackle the opioid prescription process, which is exactly what Dr. Bracker is doing at her practice. She is encouraging patients to turn to over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol and Advil. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, a review of over 460 studies showed that taking these two medications together in appropriate doses is actually more effective than opioid medication on dental pain and leads to fewer side effects. It’s crucial for medical establishments to keep deligent records of every patient — especially when it comes to prescription medications. According to the Gartner Group, 15% of all paper documents are misplaced and 7.5% are lost completely.
“I think we’ve been programmed that, unless it’s a prescription, it isn’t as good. In most of those kinds of extractions, you really don’t need it. Most kids heal really fast and easily,” says Dr. Bracker.
At Dr. Bracker’s practice, they only break their opioid-free policy in extreme cases. Even in these instances, Dr. Bracker only allows doses of the opioid medication to cover three days, well under the seven-day recommendation from the American Dental Association. When she prescribes opioids, she also educates patients on their addictive nature and advises to take them on a strictly as-needed basis.
As 99.7% of adults believe that a healthy smile is socially important, avoiding procedures that cause dental pain is nearly impossible. However, Dr. Susan Bracker has demonstrated that avoiding the use of dangerously addictive medications is entirely possible when those giving out prescriptions take control.