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Dentists say they support 7-day limits on opioid prescriptions

During the time when opioid prescriptions were declining across the board nationwide, dental prescriptions were on the rise, according to a new study published Monday in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

But the American Dental Association has now released a new policy saying they now support statutory limits of seven days for dental opioid prescriptions. These limits have not been embraced by the largest organization of doctors – the American Medical Association – which has so far resisted opioid prescription limits.

"As president of the ADA, I call upon dentists everywhere to double down on their efforts to prevent opioids from harming our patients and their families," said ADA President Joseph P. Crowley, D.D.S. "This new policy demonstrates ADA's firm commitment to help fight the country's opioid epidemic while continuing to help patients manage dental pain."

"Limiting quantity as opposed to duration would have been better," said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Co-Director of the Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University. But he added, "[The new policy] suggests the dentists are stepping up to the plate. It's a worthwhile effort because overprescribing for acute pain is a big deal." 

The new study shows the increase in dental opioid prescriptions from 2010 to 2015 was sharpest among young people ages 11 to 18 years of age, which is a group known to be at risk for drug addiction. CDC data shows that the overall national opioid prescribing rate declined from 2012 to 2016.

"Dentists are the number one opioid prescriber for adolescents and the prescribing rates were already though the roof," said Kolodny, adding that the crisis was well underway when dental prescriptions were rising, "By 2010 the CDC had already announced the [opioid] epidemic."

The American Dental Association is also calling for mandatory continuing education of all dentists and the organization says they support having dentists register with Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

Another study also released Monday in the Journal of the American Dental Association shows that researchers found that for dental pain, using Tylenol or ibuprofen was "equal if not superior" to opioids. This is in line with another recent study showing that for patients with stubborn backaches or hip or knee arthritis, opioids worked no better than over the counter drugs. 

Opioid manufacturers and distributors are facing an avalanche of lawsuits from states, cities and counties blaming the industry for starting the opioid epidemic.

The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control indicate 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016.

Alex Derosier contributed to this story.