Drunk driving has always been an issue in this country. However, as of this year, more fatal car crashes in the United States are caused by drivers who are on drugs than by drivers who are drunk. The Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility recently released a report stating that 43 percent of fatal car crashes in 2015 involved prescription or illegal drugs while only 37 percent of fatal crashes involved an illegal amount of alcohol.

It is no secret that there is an opioid epidemic in the country and in Northern Virginia and it is deadly. According to the Virginia Department of Health, in 2016, the total number of drug-related deaths was 1,420 (1,133 of those opioid related) while in 2015 the number was much lower at 1,028 deaths. The number of deaths caused by opioids has been steadily increasing since 2013, when drug related deaths became the number one unnatural killer in Virginia.

So what exactly is an opioid? Fairfaxcounty.gov defines an opioid as:

  • Something that acts on the brain and causes a euphoric effect
  • Often prescribed to relieve pain
  • Morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, methadone, fentanyl, heroin
  • Highly addictive
  • Can be lethal

The fight against opioid abuse starts at medical professionals’ offices, including doctors, specialists, and dentists. It is imperative that dental professionals be cognizant of the prescriptions they are writing and providing for patients. They should be sensitive to patients who undergo procedures requiring sedation or result in a prescription, making sure the patients are fully sober before leaving the office.

The American Dental Association provides these guidelines for prescribing opioids:

  • Conduct a medical and dental history to determine current medications, potential drug interactions, and history of substance abuse
  • Follow and continually review Centers for Disease Control and State Licensing Boards recommendations for safe opioid prescribing
  • Register with and utilize prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to promote the appropriate use of controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes, while deterring the misuse, abuse and diversion of these substances
  • Talk to patients about their responsibilities for preventing misuse, abuse, storage, and disposal of prescription opioids
  • Consider treatment options that utilize best practices to prevent exacerbation of or relapse of opioid misuse
  • Consider nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics as the first-line therapy for acute pain management
  • Recognize multimodal pain strategies for management for acute postoperative pain as a means for sparing the need for opioid analgesics
  • Consider coordination with other treating doctors, including pain specialists when prescribing opioids for management of chronic orofacial pain
  • Seek continuing education in addictive disease and pain management as related to opioid prescribing

If you have a dental procedure and do not feel stable enough to drive, err on the side of caution and inform your dentist. They will help you make other arrangements to get home. If you are taking opioids for dental pain management, take them responsibly and do not drive while on them. Don’t become another statistic.