How To Manage the Opioid Crisis Through the Scope of a Dentist

By Brianna Gleghorn

College students have a greater possibility of participating in high-risk behaviors, according to Dr. Frank Beck, regional chief opioids officer for Mercy Health. 

Beck spoke about the opioid crisis to Youngstown State University students Nov. 13 in Kilcawley Center’s Ohio Room. 

The presentation, titled “Lessons Learned – A Decade of Experience Addressing the Opioid Crisis,” educated students on Beck’s perspective of pain management working in dentistry. 

According to Beck, a patient seeking dental care could be immediately treated and therefore avoid the use of an opioid. 

“We actually developed a definitive care program where we depopulate the emergency room. Patients come to the hospital dental clinic and they get immediate definitive care, thereby eliminating the need for an opioid,” he said.

Beck said the best way to manage pain is not with opioids, but with a “pain cocktail.”

“The most effective pain management protocol they have is 600 milligrams of ibuprofen taken together with 1000 milligrams of acetaminophen,” he said.

According to Beck, the first time adolescents, those aged between 10 and 19, are introduced to opioids is after a wisdom tooth extraction.

“Most importantly, with adolescents we need to be very stringent with regards to understanding the likelihood of an adolescent with an amateur prefrontal cortex developing an addiction after exposure to an opioid,” Beck said.

Beck said the American population consumes 80% of opioids manufactured in the world.

“We’re 4% of the population,” he said. “Eighty-three percent of the world’s population has zero access. They still get operated on, they have babies, they have trauma, they have gunshot wounds.”

In Beck’s opinion, opioids are needed but usually for no longer than three to five days.

“Sometimes it’s as little as one dose or one day’s worth and you can indeed become addicted,” he said.

Jessica Handel, program director of the family medicine residency at the St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, described the opioid crisis as complex and multifaceted.

“Many factors coincided to start this crisis, so there are no simple solutions,” Handel said.  “Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to do what we can to address this crisis.”

In Handel’s opinion, physicians and health care providers should be cautious when prescribing opioids. 

“We need to identify those at risk for addiction and those who are already addicted to facilitate best treatment,” Handel said. “We need to ensure access to appropriate treatment for opioid addiction for our patients.”

According to Handel, this type of presentation is important for college students because they “will soon be leading our country and shaping our policies.”

“There is a high likelihood that the opioid crisis has already impacted or is currently affecting someone you know,” Handel said.  “You have the opportunity to save lives by starting and continuing this conversation.”   

Students from Choose Ohio First, a program for Ohio residents majoring in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine, attended Beck’s presentation. 

Cole Sexton, a sophomore chemical engineering major and a member of Choose Ohio First, said he feels it’s vital to educate college students on the opioid crisis. 

“Most of the people I know see it as mostly the same people overdosing constantly,” Sexton said. “It helps the college-aged people see drug users as human beings.”

Sexton said he was surprised to hear that out of 768 revivals of those who overdosed in Trumbull County, only 13 were repeat offenders. 

“Having these conversations can help to clear up misconceptions,” he said.