More than one-half of dental prescriptions for opioids exceed recommended guidelines

A large-scale study of dental visits resulting in opioid prescriptions found that opioid overprescribing by dentists is common. Study results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, indicate that more than one-half of opioid prescriptions written by dentists exceed the 3-day supply recommended by CDC in its 2016 guidelines for acute dental pain management.

The findings also showed that 29% of dental patients received more powerful opioids than needed for expected postprocedure pain.

"Unlike national trends, opioid overprescribing by dentists is increasing,” said lead study author Katie J. Suda, PharmD, MS, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a press statement. “Our results should initiate a call to action to professional organizations and public health and advocacy groups to improve the guidelines for prescribing opioids for oral pain. As high prescribers of opioids writing prescriptions for a 10th of the opioids dispensed in the U.S., dentists should be included as part of the multifaceted solution needed for the opioid epidemic.”

The research team analyzed more than half a million adult dental visits from 2011 to 2015 within the Truven Health MarketScan Research Databases, which was prior to the implementation of the 2016 CDC guidelines for pain management.

Susan Rowan, DDS, an author of the study from the College of Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a press statement that “additional studies are needed to evaluate the efficacy of the CDC 2016 prescribing guidelines subsequent to their introduction.”

According to the findings, patients were given more than a 3-day supply of opioids 53% of the time. Based on the morphine milligram equivalent, the prescribed opioids were more powerful than deemed medically necessary 29% of the time.