Study: 100 million prescription opioids go unused each year following wisdom teeth removal

New research from the University of Pennsylvania addresses the prescription drugs that are left over after surgical tooth extraction. According to the report, more than one-half of the opioids prescribed to patients following the dental procedure were left unused.

New research from the University of Pennsylvania addresses the prescription drugs that are left over after surgical tooth extraction. According to the report, more than one-half of the opioids prescribed to patients following the dental procedure were left unused. "Results of our study show within 5 days of surgery, most patients are experiencing relatively little pain, and yet, most still had well over half of their opioid prescription left," said Elliot V. Hersh, DMD, MS, PhD, a professor in the department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery and Pharmacology at Penn Dental Medicine, and a coauthor on the study. "Research shows that prescription-strength NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, combined with acetaminophen, can offer more effective pain relief and fewer adverse effects than opioid-containing medications." Lead author Brandon C. Maughan, MD, an emergency physician and health services researcher at The Lewin Group, a health policy consulting firm, who conducted the study while serving as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, added that "when translated to the broad U.S. population, our findings suggest that more than 100 million opioid pills prescribed to patients following surgical removal of impacted wisdom teeth are not used, leaving the door open for possible abuse or misuse by patients, or their friends or family." The research, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, suggests that having prescription disposal kiosks in pharmacies as well as small financial incentives could increase correct disposal of opioids by more than 20%.