Limiting Opioid Exposure, Encouraging Proper Disposal may be Effective Responses

A study of prescription pain medication use patterns in patients who underwent surgical tooth extraction yields interesting data that may relate to the crisis of opioid abuse. The findings also suggest possible new approaches to curbing such abuse, through modifications in prescribing practice, and adoption of new incentives to encourage proper disposal of surplus opioids. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Dental Medicine examined 79 patients who underwent surgery for dental impaction. While 94% received a prescription for an opioid medication, yet almost all reported using only half of the prescribed amount. Across the study cohort, the team found that over 1,000 doses of opioids were left unused. Lead author Brandon Maughan, MD, MHS, MSHP, commented “Given the increasing concern about prescription opioid abuse in the United States, all prescribers – including physicians, oral surgeons and dental clinicians – have a responsibility to limit opioid exposure, to explain the risks of opioid misuse, and educate patients on proper drug disposal.” The findings were published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

To test possible new incentives for proper drug disposal, the researchers introduced a financially incentivized text messaging system that rewarded patients via debit card for completing follow-up health assessments and also informed them of pharmacy-based drug disposal programs to conveniently drop off their unused medications. Providing this information led to a 22% increase in the number of patients who correctly disposed of their surplus opioids, compared to a control group who were not so informed. Dr Maughan observed “Expanding the availability of drug disposal mechanisms to community locations that patients regularly visit – such as grocery stores and retail pharmacies – may substantially increase the use of these programs.” Read more about the study findings here. The article abstract may be read here.

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