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Dentists May Be Overprescribing Potent Painkillers

Anyone who has ever undergone a relatively major oral surgery – like a root canal or the removal of wisdom teeth – probably has been prescribed a painkiller. And it is not only for surgeries that painkillers are given; many patients may complain of toothaches as a ruse to acquire narcotics. And while knowing when to draw the line, and who really needs painkillers, can be a difficult thing to do, dentists should be more careful – otherwise, a dentist may be guilty of medical malpractice.

Dentists Hand Out More Painkillers Than They Should

An article in The New York Times highlights the problem of narcotics and dentists who overly prescribe them. Dr. Bruce Lobitz, who is an attending physician in an emergency department in North Carolina, told The Times that, “Almost all dental patients request a prescription for narcotic pain pills.” The chairwoman of the emergency department at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Gail D’onofrio, was quoted as saying, “It puts the physician in a difficult situation to assess whether or not someone truly needs pain medications. We err on the side of treating pain, and it’s a huge potential for abuse.”

To add clout to her statement, an analysis shows that from 1997 to 2007, painkillers were prescribed to about three out of every four patients who visited emergency rooms for dental complaints. Over the same period, the number of painkiller prescriptions for dental patients in E.R. department increased by 26 percent. Another study, cited by, shows that dentists were the largest source of opioid prescriptions for patients ages 10 to 19.

Why Dentists Prescribe Narcotics

If dentists are overprescribing painkillers, and know that they are doing so, why does the practice continue? The same article cited above quotes Elliot Hersh, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who said that the problem likely lies in habit. In addition to habit, patient demand is an increasing problem, especially when unhappy patients now have the ability to leave poor reviews that can damage a dentist’s reputation.

But the dangers of opioid shouldn’t go ignored, regardless of the reasons for which they are prescribed. These drugs can be highly addictive, causing far more that just health complications; narcotic use can lead to addiction that ultimately causes a person to lose their job, declare bankruptcy, commit other illegal acts for money, live on the street, and more.

Carlos Aquino, who spent more than two decades on the police force before retiring, told, speaking about dentists, “Your field is dentistry, not pain management.”

What Does All of this Have to Do With Medical Malpractice?

Writing a prescription for a drug that is not necessary and that has known risks, and that another dentist or doctor in a similar situation would not prescribe, is an act of malpractice. If you have questions about prescription drug use and dental or medical malpractice, contact the experienced Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at the law firm of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. for a free case consultation today.

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