Opioids for wisdom tooth removal pain puts teens at risk of addiction

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The fight against opioid addiction is not an easy one. Families have been torn apart as a result of the ongoing epidemic in this country.

A well-known healthcare group is taking strides to better limit these strong prescriptions.

What we learned about the doctors who prescribe teens these painkillers most often may surprise you.

Wisdom teeth can be a pain... literally.

Dental patients often have their wisdom teeth extracted as teens. As a result,  UnitedHealth Group said dentists write about 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for teens in the US.

Dr. Ted Wong,  Chief Dental Officer at UnitedHealth Group, said the provider recently altered its pharmacy policy for painkiller prescriptions. A step to help combat the opioid crisis.

"If it's a first-time opioid prescription for a patient 19 and younger, then that prescription is going to be capped at the CDC recommendation," said Wong. "So no more than 3 days."

Painkillers have high street value.

Local law enforcement says many criminals are looking to steal them.

"Cleaning out your medicine cabinet is very important. When someone burglarizes your house, that's usually one of the things they're looking for is that medicine cabinet," explained Lt. Johnson of the Huntsville Police Department. "Because those pills are worth quite a few dollars a piece, each pill."

UnitedHealth Group said its paying closer attention and warning doctors whose opioid prescribing behavior stands out amongst medical peers.

"If it looks like you're going to be prescribed an opioid, ask your dentist, 'Do I really need one or is there an alternative?'" advised Wong.

Wong said he has found over the counter options such as combining Tylenol and Motrin can be just as effective, if not more effective than opioids without the risk of addiction.

"Be informed, know about opioids the risks and the benefits. Be involved in the decision, patients ultimately have that decision to use or how much to use in terms of opioids," added Wong. "Be careful if you do get prescribed an opioid, handle them carefully and dispose of them appropriately."

Huntsville Police have a prescription drug drop box where people can leave them, no questions asked.

HPD and other local law enforcement agencies with be participating in a national effort by the Drug Enforcement Agency to take back drugs on April 27.

Lt. Johnson said there will be a drop-off site across from the safety complex at 815 Wheeler Avenue. They'll also set up a drop off at Kroger on Highway 72 near Jeff Road on that day.

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