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Experts Warn On Deadly Addiction Risks Of Opioids Given After Wisdom Teeth Removal

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - There's a new warning out about painkiller addiction and how it can start after a common surgery.

About 5 million Americans choose to have their wisdom teeth removed every year, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

Patients and parents need to know about the risks of opioids to avoid the dangers from addiction.

Ellen Earley's daughter Saige was a young mother doting on her 16-month-old son, Julian.

In 2017 the 22-year-old needed to have her wisdom teeth removed.

The dentist prescribed the opioids without any warnings.

"No warning, no nothing," said Earley. "In fact, he said you know I think they gave her a five-day supply and he said if you need more just let me know. Just give a call."

Saige quickly became dependent, getting several refills before she found something else.

Earley said her daughter moved from opioids to heroin almost immediately.

Just 15 months after having her wisdom teeth removed, Saige overdosed and died in an airport bathroom on her way to a fourth round of rehab.

"It was shocking," said her mother. "I mean, because we have this, she was gone."

MORE: 28 Arrested, 40,000 Doses Of Opioids Seized In New Jersey Drug Ring Bust

Dr. Chad Brummett studies pain at the University of Michigan. He says despite research showing that a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen is superior to treat pain, dentists are still prescribing too many opioids to young adults.

"These kids tend to be generally healthy, and for many, dental care, such as wisdom teeth extraction is the first opioid exposure," said Brummett. "If we were to do some back of the envelope math, it could be like 50,000 kids each year becoming new chronic opioid users after something simple like wisdom tooth extraction."

Dr. Brummet's research found that simply filling an opioid prescription after wisdom tooth surgery more than doubled the odds of continued use among patients who had never used those painkillers before.

In light of the epidemic, the American Dental Association has released updated guidelines recommending use of alterative pain relievers and a maximum 7-day supply when opioids are necessary.

Earley hopes more families learn about the alternatives to opioids after dental surgery. Almost a year after Saige's death, her grandson keeps asking when his mom is coming back.

"He will take me into her room and he'll say let's just wait," she said. "Let's just wait for mama."

Julian is now 3-years-old and will start preschool this fall.

Brummett said it is still common practice for oral surgeons to write a "backup" prescription, but he says it's misguided and potentially detrimental.

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