As a varsity quarterback, Brian considered himself pretty tough. Still, he was happy to take the painkiller prescription his dentist offered after he had his wisdom tooth removed. Based on his own experience, Brian’s brother had told him the recovery could be extremely painful. His brother was right.
The next day, Brian was grateful for the medication. A couple days later, though, he was feeling fine. But he still had 15 pills left. He put them in the medicine cabinet, with the thought, “I guess I have a good stash if I ever need them, or if anyone else wants one.”
Brian’s Not Alone
A recent study reveals Brian’s scenario is all too common. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine tracked wisdom-tooth removal and prescription use immediately following the procedure. They discovered that most patients didn’t need the pills after a few days, but their doctors gave them enough medication to last several weeks. On average, 28 pills were prescribed, with 15 still remaining three weeks after surgery.
Now let’s apply that to the nation as a whole. Based on the number of wisdom tooth extractions that occur, researchers estimate that more than 100 million opioid pills are dished out to patients that aren’t really needed, and these pills are left unused. And that’s the number of pills from just one type of procedure!
What’s the Harm in Leftovers?
It may seem harmless to have a bottle of extra pills stashed in the medicine cabinet. It’s not. These extras are a major source of drug abuse. Between 60 and 70 percent of teens who abuse drugs report that home medicine cabinets are their source of drugs or they are given the drugs by a friend or relative. In 2012, nearly a fourth of teens admitted to abusing a prescription drug at least once.
Opioids are extremely potent and addictive. Brian’s extra pills are an unnecessary risk. They could do harm to anyone who has access to them (such as any of Brian’s friends who decide they want to experiment with drugs, or Brian’s younger brother, who heard that painkillers produce a great high).
They are also a risk for Brian himself. After the pain from his surgery ceased, he might have continued taking the pills until they were all gone. After several weeks, he might have formed a very bad habit.
Take Away the Temptation
Teens don’t need another temptation. Adolescence includes enough risk factors for drug use - without adding dental procedures into the mix. To prevent this situation, parents can take the following proactive steps:
- Speak to your doctor about after-care. Express your concerns about leftover pills. Explain you would like just enough for a few days.
- Properly dispose of any leftover pills. Researchers involved in this study found that informing patients about drug disposal programs increased proper disposal of leftover drugs by 22 percent.
- Educate yourself and your teen about any and all substances they take. Ensure they know how the drug works, how it affects their body, and the risks involved if misused.
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