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Vermont Dentists Focus on Opioid Misuse

Conference attendees heard form an expert on addiction, who said his problem with opioids started with prescriptions for pain after a school shooting massacre

As the nation grapples with the effects of substance use disorder on communities, especially the crisis of drug overdoses, a conference Monday in Vermont focused on what dentists can do to help address the challenges.

“Every prescriber has a role to play,” Austin Eubanks told necn before addressing the conference hosted by the Vermont State Dental Society in South Burlington.

Eubanks survived the Columbine school shooting massacre in 1999 but said prescription painkillers he was given while healing from his injuries ended up consuming him for years.

Now in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, Eubanks tours the country speaking about addiction and addiction treatment.

“And I think for us to really move the trend, we have to reach people before they enter addiction,” Eubanks said. “We have to focus on systems of prevention that prevent them from going down that path.”

Organizers of the conference said members of the Vermont State Dental Society want to do what they can to help reduce rates of opioid pill misuse.

Such abuse is often a precursor to heroin. Unneeded prescriptions can also leave unused pills in medicine chests—possibly enabling theft or dangerous experimentation.

Dr. Cassandra Coakley, the president of the Vermont State Dental Society, said oral surgeons and her fellow dentists have a much greater awareness today of the risks of over-prescribing pain meds than just five or ten years ago.

“If someone came in with a toothache, we would just automatically give them a pain medication to manage their pain—you know, if it was severe—and give them an antibiotic script, but those days are gone,” Coakley told necn, adding that fewer and fewer patients seem to be asking for pain meds at appointments in her office in Montpelier.

Coakley said she and her peers in Vermont are doing more now than ever to urge patients to manage mouth discomfort without opioids.

That point drew praise from Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, who addressed Monday’s conference.

“By suggesting alternatives to opioids after things like the removal of wisdom teeth, dentists have the opportunity to educate all of us about the increased risk of addiction when introduced to opioids,” Scott observed.

Figures from the Vermont Department of Health show that medical professionals’ focus on prescribing patterns has led to fewer opioids dispensed in Vermont.

Over a two-and-a-half year period starting in the first quarter of 2016, doses measured in milligrams of morphine dropped by a third in the state, according to numbers provided to necn by the health department.

Coakley said one big thing dentists can do to help in this area is to work more closely with other branches of medicine, so they are aware of what other treatments and prescriptions their patients are receiving.

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