Doctors are overprescribing opioids to teens: Nearly 60% leave dental visits with the drugs

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Nearly 60 percent of teens and young adults leave emergency dental visits with a prescription for opioids – when most would be fine with Tylenol, a new study reveals. 

What’s more, at least 12 percent of ER visits for sore throats and about 17 percent of visits for urinary tract infections ended with an opioid prescription. 

Past studies have shown that using prescription opioids at such a young age can increase a teen’s risk of opioid misuse in the future by more than one-third. 

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School say the numbers are shocking and that guidelines, like the ones in place for adults, need to be established on opioid prescribing in younger populations.

A new study from Boston Children's Hospital has found that nearly 60 % of visits for dental disorders among teenagers and young adults ended with an opioid prescription (file image)

A new study from Boston Children’s Hospital has found that nearly 60 % of visits for dental disorders among teenagers and young adults ended with an opioid prescription (file image)

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that opioid overdose deaths topped more than 47,000 in 2017. 

This means that an average of 130 Americans die each day due to opioid overdoses.

The concern has, most recently, been focused on the rise in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

However, prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin were responsible for about 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.  

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Teenagers and college-age adults are particularly susceptible to opioid misuse.

Past research has shown ‘legitimate use of prescription opioids among high school students has been associated with a 33 percent increase in the risk of future opioid misuse among young adults,’ the authors wrote.   

For the study, published in Pediatrics, the team analyzed data from two national surveys from the CDC.

Researchers looked at visits to emergency rooms and outpatient clinics for teenagers, ages 13 to 17, and young adults, ages 18 to 22.

Over the course of the study period, about 57 million visits resulted in an opioid prescription, including 14.9 percent of emergency department visits and 2.8 percent of outpatient visits.

Prescriptions in emergency rooms did decrease between 2005 and 2015, but just slightly – by about four percent. 

Data showed that visits associated with dental disorders were the most likely to see an opioid prescription written, at nearly 60 percent for both teens and young adults.  

‘The actual recommendation for this is for Tylenol or ibuprofen, not opioids,’ lead author, Dr Joel Hudgins, a clinical instructor at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told NBC News.

A study published last year from Stanford University School of Medicine found that teens and young adults who were prescribed opioids from their dentists are 15 more likely to become addicted. 

Visits for collarbone fractures and broken ankles were the second and third most likely to result in opioid prescriptions for 13-to-17-year-olds. 

Among 18-to-22-year-olds, the second and third most likely were visits for lower back pain and neck sprains.   

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Dr Hudgins added that guidelines for prescriptions among teens and young adults need to be established to help curb the crisis. 

‘There are national guidelines on opioid prescribing for adults, and that really helps prescribers know how long, what the right duration is, and what the right opioid is, and things like that,’ Dr Hudgins told CNN

‘There really aren’t those guidelines, or at least not at the national level, for adolescents and young adults.’

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