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Opioid epidemic peaks as COVID-19 remains center stage

According to a Nov. 17 report, an estimated 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses — primarily driven by illicit synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl — in one year. report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It marks the first time that milestone has been reached and serves as a tragic reminder that as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis is still ongoing and needs to stay top of mind with dental professionals.

“It’s alarming,” said Sharon Parsons, DDS, past president of the Ohio Dental Association and passionate advocate for spreading awareness about the opioid epidemic.

It’s personal to Dr. parsons. Her son Sean died of an opioid overdose in 2015, prompting her to educate others about opioid prescribing and addiction.

That advocacy was illustrated in an Oct. 21 ADA webinar she co-hosted with former Ohio Dental Association president David Kimberly, DDS.

Now available for on-demand viewing on ADA.org, the hour-long webinar, Opioids, Dentistry and Addiction: The Dentist’s Role in Pain Management, presented the positive role dentists can play in helping to alleviate the opioid crisis. The webinar aims to increase understanding about substance use and addiction and provide the best options currently available for the treatment of acute pain.

The COVID-19 pandemic left many people with substance use disorders isolated and unable to receive treatment or other support, said Dr. Parsons, which made the problem worse.

Since her son’s death, Dr. Parsons has become a sought-after speaker and educator on addiction thanks to her extensive research on the topic, and although the COVID-19 pandemic led to a halt to in-person presentations, she continued to advocate for it online.

“We have to repeat the message,” she said. “Repeat the message. Repeat the message.”

Part of that message is educating dentists about changing their prescribing methods if they haven’t already. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, more commonly known as NSAIDs, and acetaminophen have been shown to be more effective at reducing pain than opioid analgesics and are therefore recommended as the first-line therapy for acute pain management, she said, according to the ADA policy set out. in 2016.

In 2018, the ADA was the first national health organization to adopt policies to support mandatory continuing education in the prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances, as well as legal prescribing limits on opioid doses and a duration of no more than seven days for the treatment of acute pain, in consistent with evidence-based guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, Dr. Parsons dentists to look for signs that their patients may be struggling with addiction.

As for the future, said Dr. Parsons that she will continue to spread awareness about addiction and how her colleagues in dentistry can play a role in reducing the epidemic.

“I’ll keep talking,” she said.

Read more about the opioid crisis at ADA.org/opioids.