Study finds increased prescription drug abuse in communities with greater access to dentists

July 6, 2015
Michael Quirk

Issue 12

A recent study by researchers at the Indiana University – Purdue University Department of Health Policy and Management found that access to health care – in particular dentists and pharmacists – increases the availability and subsequent abuse of prescription opioids.

A recent study by researchers at the Indiana University – Purdue University Department of Health Policy and Management found that access to health care – in particular dentists and pharmacists – increases the availability and subsequent abuse of prescription opioids.

The study, which only focused on counties in Indiana, determined that the structure of regional health care systems is a major factor in determining localized access to opioids.

“Our study clearly underscores that the broader problem of prescription opioid abuse in Indiana is, in part, an 'iatrogenic epidemic,' or an unintended and unfortunate byproduct of the evolution of our health care system, medical science and the growth of the pharmaceutical industry," said Eric Wright, the lead researcher in the study. Wright is the university’s professor of Health Policy & Management, as well as director of the Center for Health Policy.

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Prescription drug abuse is a burgeoning problem in the United States, one so large that many state and national officials have gone so far as to label it an epidemic. The Food and Drug Administration reports that retail pharmacies filled roughly 174 million ER/LA and IR opioid prescriptions in 2000. By 2009, this number had jumped to nearly 257 million.

According to the study, Indiana counties with greater numbers of dentists and pharmacists dispensed more opioid prescriptions per-capita than those with fewer. Past research has also concluded that dentists are a major source of opioid prescriptions, often prescribing quantities in excess of the patient’s needs.

Nevertheless, the researchers advise against using such localized data to attach liability for the general increase of opioid abuse to individual health care providers.

"We must be cautious and work with public health and health care leaders to avoid 'overcorrecting,' unnecessarily restricting the supply of opioids, or inadvertently vilifying or punishing providers who are struggling to meet patients' legitimate clinical needs," Wright said.

Check out these resources to learn how you can help minimize opioid abuse without ignoring the legitimate needs of your patients

Study: Prevention of prescription opioid abuse: the role of the dentist

American Dental Association: Examining Prescription Drug Abuse: the Role of the Dental Professional [DOWNLOAD]

The Medicine Abuse Project

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Initiative

Prescribers’ Clinical Support System for Opioid Therapies