What was once an inner-city problem has become a major issue in the suburbs of our own county as well as throughout this country. Vermont, from where I recently returned, and neighboring New Hampshire have had an epidemic of heroin deaths.
On a daily basis, 120 American citizens die from drug overdoses. Just to put it in perspective, we lose more Americans in one day from illegal drugs than we've lost in the last 14 years from terrorism in the United States. Interestingly, our current presidential candidates rarely, if ever, discuss this issue.
Drug overdoses exceed gun deaths and have become the leading cause of death of young people from the ages of 15 to 34.
Interestingly and sadly, the greatest proportion of these deaths has been due to the use of prescription opioids whether it be Oxycontin or Percocet, commonly prescribed by hospitals and physicians as well as dentists.
One of the women on the radio show lost her son after he started on drugs when his physician prescribed him Oxycontin for back pain. He had no history of addiction and was a New York City police detective. Within 1.5 years, he was dead from a heroin-induced coma.
There are many things to be discussed regarding drugs in America and you are well aware that our drug war over the last 40-50 years has essentially failed to truly stem the epidemic of illegal drugs. This scourge of drug-induced deaths has actually significantly increased.
In my own practice over the last number of years, I have essentially stopped all prescription writing of opioids for dental-induced discomfort. I have discovered, and research has supported me in many studies, that the combined use of Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) from 200-600 mg. along with Extra Strength Tylenol is more effective, not just equally, but more effective than taking narcotic pain relievers. In fact in one study, the combination of 600 mg. of Ibuprofen and Extra Strength Tylenol taken together were twice as effective as morphine.
Since it is beyond the scope of the medical profession to deal with illegally-imported drugs, it is well within our control to deal with prescription narcotic drugs. I recently asked a physician-patient of mine why he prescribes narcotics for patients with pain. His remarks were not surprising but are shocking. He said patients in pain want to come home with a prescription that they can only obtain from a doctor. Prescribing over-the-counter Ibuprofen and Tylenol does not feel like adequate treatment to justify the doctor visit for many patients. If you've ever been to a hospital and had any surgery or discomfort, they quickly take out the Percodan, Percocet or Oxycontin and give it to you every four hours to control your discomfort.
If indeed the fact that Ibuprofen and Tylenol do a better job with none of the side effects and certainly none of the addictive qualities that narcotics have, you would wonder why this doesn't become a national standard for pain relief. I would challenge the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry and point fingers to their complicity in perpetuating the use of prescription narcotics and subsequently the huge underground marketplace for prescription drugs.
Sadly and tragically, two of my patients have lost their young daughters to drug use. One young lady tried heroin once which resulted in her death and the other young lady had a couple of alcoholic beverages, subsequently took one Oxycontin; the combination was enough to put into respiratory depression and she died in her bed.
The take-home message for my audience is as follows:
If you have discomfort or need pain relief, ask your physician or your dentist for something other than narcotics. I promise you they work more effectively without any of the side effects that narcotics will give you. There are some medical conditions that may preclude the use of Ibuprofen but that represents a very small percentage of patients needing or taking pain relievers.
And finally, let's speak out to our political leaders to stem the availability of prescription opioids.
As always, I appreciate your feedback.
Victor M. Sternberg, D.M.D.
Dental Office of:
Victor M. Sternberg, D.M.D., PC
Westchester Center of Periodontal and Implant Excellence
141 North State Road
Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510