Written by: Pat Campbell
Pat is an ASDA member who recently traveled to Student Lobby Day in Washington DC.
In front of a mass conglomerate of both practicing dentists and dental students, an individual with an extensive education background in biology, physiology, patient management, and pharmacology rose and shared her regret--she missed the warning signs. A veteran, practicing dentist and most importantly a mother, wrenchingly shared her story that she lost her adult son to an opioid overdose. Her plea to the hundreds of individuals gathered in the banquet hall for the ADA Legislative Lobby Day in April 2018- do all that is necessary to curb the current epidemic of opioid addition in the United States, because in her own words, she would, “do anything to have my son back.”
The group of individuals that heard this plea was a group that would soon be marching to Capitol Hill to discuss with current members of congress issues in the practice of dentistry. With hope that progress would occur because of our effort, the dentists and dental students were ready to discuss with lawmakers that opioids were in involved with 28,496 deaths in 2016 and more than 8,400 of these occurred among adults between the ages of 25 and 34. As those often dealing with patients experiencing pain after procedures, dentists are on the forefront of prescribing safe prescriptions of opioids in the health field. The threat of opioid abuse is so daunting, that the ADA now recommends the consideration to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics as the first line therapy for acute pain management, a fact that many members of congress did not know. While the prescribing habits of many health professionals has changed because of the current opioid epidemic, what needs to continually change is how health care professionals address patients that may have a drug problem. As health care professionals that should adopt the ideology of life-time learning, the ADA states that dentists should seek to continue education in Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Finally, know that if someone is struggling with addiction, there are resources available such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline (1-800-662-HELP). Understanding the risk factors, signs, and consequences of opioid abuse is our responsibility as health care professionals and it very well could save lives.
Crippling is a word I often hear to describe the debt load current dental students are facing following graduation from dental school. With an average debt load reaching the cusp of 300,000 dollars, the dental students at ADA Lobby Day 2018 were ready to let their voices be heard on Capitol Hill. When discussing the massive debt load current students are facing, members of Congress were shocked to hear that tuition is inflating to its current level. We had caught the attention of individuals that hold great influence in today’s political landscape.
The ADA and ASDA possess a few priorities when addressing student debt. First and most simply, the interest rates of federal direct unsubsidized Stafford Loans needs to be reduced. Second, permit federal graduate student loans to be refinanced through the government more than once. Dental students and practicing dentists will often use outside companies to refinance loans in order to obtain better interest rates. With this said, the government will then lose the profit of interest from said loans. Extending the deferment period until the new dentist has completed residency as well as removing barriers for students to access loan repayment programs are two additionally points the ADA wants to emphasize. This said, student dentists should keep in mind that the biggest problem with this massive debt load is the possible consequences it will have on providing high quality care to the people that need care the most. With monthly loan payment bills to pay, a new doctor may find it difficult to volunteer their time, resources, and money to those in greater need. I believe that everyone in dental school has the desire to help others, and reducing this massive burden of debt will help us reach the philanthropic goals we all hold.