ST PAUL, Minn. - Opioids killed a staggering 33,000 people in 2015, and the vast majority of those people were first exposed to the drug from a doctor’s prescription.
For several years, many in healthcare have been working to cut down on the number of opioid prescriptions, but now the University of Minnesota Dental School is going a step further.
"The opiate crisis is the largest healthcare crisis of our time,” said Dr. Harold Tu, director of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial surgery at the U of M.
Dr. Harold Tu says, for a long time he didn't know what he could personally do about the crisis until he attended a rally in Washington DC in 2014, held by an organization called FedUp! which advocates for a national response to the opioid epidemic.
Dr. Angie Rake, a fellow dental surgeon, had her own reasons for taking an interest in the topic.
"I have a brother, a younger brother, who at the age of 26 was diagnosed with cancer…And was prescribed Percocet, which is an opioid, and became physically dependent," said Dr. Rake.
Though her brother beat cancer, he never recovered from addiction. The last she heard he was still living on the streets as a heroin addict.
With her brother in mind, Dr. Rake became one of the first dental surgeons to embrace the new protocol, designed by Dr. Tu. It relies on non-steroidal painkillers like Advil and Tylenol, which are often just as effective as opioids in treating pain from routine dental surgeries.
Opioids still remain an option, but a prescription must include an explanation and documentation.
Dr. Rake said, "It's done differently. It's done with patient education and with a consent with them knowing potential risks of using opioids."
According to the Center for Disease Control, the amount of opioids prescribed has been falling since 2010, but there is a long way to go. There are still three times more prescriptions today than in 1999.
Dr. Tu said, "The goal really is to move the needle and to improve patient care."
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