COVID slowed efforts to reduce opioid use in dental care: Study

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed efforts to reduce the use of opioids in dentistry, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan.

Six findings from the study: 

  1. The study found that opioids dispensed to dental patients of all ages in the U.S. declined by 45% from 2016 until the end of 2022. 
  2. 7.4 million dental patients of all ages filled opioid prescriptions in 2022. 
  3. Although the rate of decline for opioid prescriptions slowed for most groups after June 2020, prescriptions for teens and young adults continued declining.
  4. 6.1 million more dental opioid prescriptions were dispensed between June 2020 and December 2022 than what would have been dispensed if the pre-pandemic decline had continued. 
  5. Researchers could not determine the reason behind the slowing of the decline in dental opioid prescriptions during the pandemic. One theory provided is that dentists were more likely to prescribe opioids out of precaution in case patients were not easily able to follow up with their dentist during the pandemic.
  6. The researchers also speculated that poor access to dental care among Medicaid patients may have increased the number of dental emergencies and the need for opioids.

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