A new study has been published in the medical journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, which claims that teenagers may be at risk for becoming addicted to painkillers after having their wisdom teeth removed and being prescribed opioid-based pills.
According to the researchers, the role dental painkiller prescriptions has played a role in the rates of teen addiction and death related to opioids. The authors of the study looked at data from more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths last year.
Alan Schroeder, one of the researchers behind the study and a professor from the Stanford University School of Medicine, said, “Given the gravity of the opioid epidemic, the degree of persistent use and abuse we observed in adolescents and young adults, especially females, is alarming. Our findings should trigger heightened scrutiny over the frequency of prescribing dental opioids.”
Young adults and teens are frequently introduced to these highly addictive drugs when their wisdom teeth are removed. Millions of people have their wisdom teeth removed each year, but teens are emotionally ill-equipped to handle the responsibility of taking these drugs as directed.
The vast majority of patients who have their third molars removed are prescribed a powerful painkiller to numb the pain. But giving these drugs to teens is new. Before 2009 this was unheard of, but today it is common. According to Alan Schroeder, over 15,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 were prescribed opioids in 2016 and 6% of them were diagnosed with an opioid addiction within one year.
Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of treatment research at Brandeis said, “These are kids who could have gotten Advil and Tylenol, and 6% showed evidence of becoming addicted”
With opioid addiction, the sufferer experiences uncontrollable pain sensations as the body’s natural ability to regulate pain is disrupted. The result is a spiral of agony and abuse that is extremely difficult to escape from. Worse still, the fact that these drugs are legal and are given by doctors suggests to children that they are safe to take recreationally. Nothing could be further from the truth. Medical grade painkillers are extremely toxic to the liver and kidneys. In some cases, the victims overdose the first time they use the drugs in a way that is not recommended.
More disturbing still is the fact that most wisdom teeth patients do fine with over the counter painkillers like Tylenol.
Kolodny said, “We certainly don’t need to expose adolescents to opioids after we take out their wisdom teeth. On that particular topic, the science is clear.”