In a new study, researchers found that many older patients receiving opioids at dental visits also use psychotropic medications—a potentially harmful combination.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Illinois Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh.
Rates of polypharmacy, or taking multiple medications, are high among older adults who are more likely to be managing more than one health issue at any given time.
Psychotropic medications that act on the central nervous system, such as antianxiety or antidepressant medications, are especially dangerous if taken with opioids because they can interact with each other and have negative effects.
In the study, the team looked at medical, dental, and pharmacy claims data from 40,800 older adult dental patients who visited a dentist between 2011 and 2015 and were prescribed opioids.
The average age of the patients included in the study was 69 years old and 45% were female.
Of these patients, 10% were taking medications that are linked to increased risks for harm with opioid prescriptions.
There were a total of 947 hospitalizations or emergency room visits among these patients.
The researchers found that among patients prescribed opioids by their dentist, 1 in 10 was already taking a prescription medication that should not be prescribed with opioids.
They also found that patients inappropriately prescribed an opioid medication combination by their dentist were 23% more likely to be hospitalized or visit an emergency department in the 30 days after the dental visit where they were prescribed an opioid, compared with dental patients who were not prescribed an opioid medication.
The team says dentists are among the top prescribers of opioids.
It seems that the increased messaging regarding limiting opioid prescriptions has been aimed primarily at medical physicians and not tailored to other specialist providers, including dentists.
Opioid interactions with other medications were likely responsible for the big rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
One author of the study is Katie Suda, a professor of medicine.
The study is published in the journal Pharmacotherapy.
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