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    Dentists can help fight opioid epidemic

    The opioid epidemic in America is costing tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

    And Massachusetts is no exception, with increasing rates of overdose in 2016. The epidemic is fueled by prescriptions and, in many cases, drug diversion—when prescriptions are obtained or used illegally. 

    Opioids may be prescribed after dental surgery, but what happens to the unused, leftover pills? Are they targets for diversion?
    A recent study examined how many opioid pills are actually left over after dental surgery and the effectiveness of a program that encourages people to appropriately dispose of them. The American Dental Association reports that one of the main hypotheses tested was whether people who received information about properly disposing of their opioids would be more likely to do so.  

    The information patients received also contained a brief description of the risks of keeping unused opioid analgesics and information regarding a hotline that would provide direction for appropriate drug disposal.

    The researchers found a 22% increase in the proportion of patients who either disposed of or reported intent to dispose of unused opioids. They also found that patients received an average of 28 pills per prescription and had 15 pills (54%) left over.  Even though they had a small sample size, the researchers concluded that dentists and oral surgeons could substantially reduce the amount of prescription opioids for diversion.

    Dentists in Massachusetts must now also participate in the state’s prescription monitoring program. In October, the state passed a law requiring prescribers to search the online program before issuing a prescription for certain drugs, including opioids.

    According to the report, doctors, dentists, mid-level practitioners and pharmacists who sign into MassPAT, short for Massachusetts Prescription Awareness Tool, and enter a patient's name and birthdate receive a year's worth of clinical information, showing the drugs prescribed and information on the prescriber and pharmacy.

    The MassPAT is also interoperable with prescription monitoring programs in other states, so prescribers in Massachusetts can see medical information even if the patient received that care elsewhere.  

    This new requirement is just one piece of a comprehensive approach the state is taking to fight the opioid epidemic.