DMD Survey: One-Third of Dentists Know of an Opioid-Addicted Colleague

August 17, 2016
Jared Kaltwasser

A new survey of 196 dentists finds dental professionals believe opioid abuse is a minor problem in the industry, though nearly one-third say they know of a dentist colleague who has or had a prescription drug abuse problem.

Nearly one in three dentists say they know of a dentist who has been addicted to prescription opioids, according to a new Dentist’s Money Digest reader survey.

Thirty-two percent of respondents said they are personally aware of a dentist colleague with a painkiller problem. The results are based on a survey of 196 dental professionals, conducted online from July 7 through August 6.

Respondents were anonymous, but one commenter recalled a tragic case, around 40 years ago.

“…A dentist lost his license due to opioid addiction following [an] airplane crash. Very nice guy. Unfortunately, he committed suicide by jumping in front of an Amtrak train.”

Joseph Garbely, DO, medical director at Caron Treatment Centers, said many dentists fear professional repercussions if they seek help for addiction. But he said most regulatory boards now understand that addiction is a disease, and, like any disease, can be treated.

“Addiction’s not going to be fixed by self-will,” he told Dentist’s Money Digest. “Self-will will not work. You have to surrender to a (treatment) process.”

A full interview with Garbely is available here.

The 196 dentists were primarily general practitioners (82%), nearly two-thirds (62%) worked as solo-practitioners, and most (82%) had been practicing for more than 20 years.

Despite the fact that one-third of dentists say they know or knew of an addicted dentist, nearly two-thirds (65%) said they see opioid abuse as a “minor” problem. Another 28% said it is a “significant, but not pressing” issue.

“I don't think a lot of dentists are personally addicted to opioids, no more than the general population, however I do believe some are over-prescribers,” said one respondent.

The survey also asked dentists about their prescribing habits.

Three-quarters (77%) said NSAIDS are “usually” adequate for post-operative pain relief. Another 17% said NSAIDS are “always” adequate.

When prescribing opioids, 51% of dentists said they prescribe less than a two-week supply, and many said they only prescribe two to four days’ worth of pills.

Some took an even stricter approach.

“I will only prescribe enough for the evening after the procedure,” one respondent wrote.

About one-third (33%) said they always warn patients about the addictive properties of opioids prior to prescribing the pills. Another 41% said they “sometimes” warn patients, but only if they have reason to believe the particular patient might be susceptible to addiction.

However, only 59% said they screen patients for possible addiction problems before prescribing opioids.

And while the vast majority of dentists say they won’t prescribe opioids without an office visit, 17% said they had done so at least once.

Continue reading to see the full results in chart format.

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