One in 10 older dental patients inappropriately prescribed opioids

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A new study by researchers in the US suggests that a significant proportion of older patients receiving opioids at dental visits also use psychotropic medications—a potentially harmful combination. 

The findings—by a team from the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh—are published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.

Rates of polypharmacy, or taking multiple medications, are high among older adults who are more likely to be managing more than one health issue at any given time. Psychotropic medications that act on the central nervous system, such as antianxiety or antidepressant medications, are especially dangerous if taken with opioids because they can interact with each other and have negative effects.

“Some of the most concerning negative outcomes of these combinations include overdosing on opioids or falling, which can necessitate a visit to the hospital, which in itself carries greater risk for older adults,” Professor Gregory Calip said.

The researchers looked at medical, dental and pharmacy claims data from 40,800 older adult dental patients who visited a dentist between 2011 and 2015 and were prescribed opioids. 

The average age of the patients included in the study was 69 years old and 45 per cent were female. Of these patients, 10 per cent were taking medications that are associated with increased risks for harm with opioid prescriptions.

There were a total of 947 hospitalizations or emergency room visits among these patients.

The researchers found that among patients prescribed opioids by their dentist, one in 10 were already taking a prescription medication that should not be prescribed with opioids.

They also found that patients inappropriately prescribed an opioid medication combination by their dentist were 23 per cent more likely to be hospitalised or visit an emergency department in the 30 days after the dental visit where they were prescribed an opioid, compared with dental patients who were not prescribed an opioid medication.

“Dentists are among the top prescribers of opioids,” Professor Katie Suda said.

“It seems that the increased messaging regarding limiting opioid prescriptions has been aimed primarily at medical physicians and not tailored to other specialist providers, including dentists. This can have dire consequences.”

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