Millions of opioid pills unused by dental surgery patients

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More than half of opioids prescribed to patients following surgical tooth extraction—such as the removal of impacted wisdom teeth— are not used, according to a study published earlier this month in the online journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

In the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine examined prescription opioid use for 79 patients after dental impaction surgery, and how a small financial incentive and information about a pharmacy-based drug disposal program affected their willingness to properly dispose of unused medications. Researchers also tested the effectiveness of using a text message-based platform to collect data on pain and prescription medication use.

“Results of our study showed within five days of surgery, most patients are experiencing relatively little pain, and yet, most still had well over half of their opioid prescription left,” said study co-author Elliot Hersh.

The surplus is troubling, he added, given the ongoing opioid epidemic and evidence showing that individuals who abuse prescription opioids often use leftover pills that were prescribed for friends or family members.

Additional results showed that offering information specific to a drug disposal program led to a 22 per cent increase in the number of patients who either properly disposed or planned to properly dispose of leftover opioids.

This led the study authors to conclude that expanding the availability of drug disposal mechanisms to community locations that patients regularly visit—such as grocery stores and retail pharmacies—may substantially increase the use of these programs.

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