Putting a stop to the Opioid Crisis: Learnings from ASDA’s National Leadership Conference

Written by: Emily Schuler

Emily is a D2 and serves as our MU ASDA’s Membership Chair. Continue reading below to read more about the insight she gained at the National Leadership Conference this year!

More than 72,000 Americans died from drug-related overdoses in 2017. That would be like having one deadly 150-passenger plane crash each day for an entire year. Or re-living a tragedy the magnitude of September 11th once every three weeks for a year, losing nearly 3,000 people every three weeks. Picture nearly all of the fans at a Packers game at Lambeau- gone in one day. And if a plane crashed once a day for a year, or 3,000 people disappeared every three weeks for an entire year, it would be all over national headlines and Americans would demand answers.

And while I knew that dentists and other prescribers of opioids played a role in this national epidemic, I didn’t realize until after attending Dr. Omar Abubaker’s tear-jerking workshop at ASDA’s National Leadership Conference (NLC) in November 2018 the magnitude of such a crisis and how we, as future dental professionals, can help put an end to it.

Dr. Abubaker is an oral surgeon, faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth’s Hospitals (VCU) in Richmond, and father to a son who died in a drug-related overdose. After losing his son in 2014, Dr. Abubaker committed himself to fighting opioid-related addiction, even though he himself admits to having written far too many prescriptions for addictive painkillers throughout his career as an oral surgeon. During his workshop at NLC, Dr. Abubaker discussed the reality of prescribing opioids as a dentist. He re-counted numerous examples of ways dentists over-prescribe drugs to patients. “Often times, dentists instruct patients to take opioids before the local anesthetic wears off,” said Dr. Abubaker, “…without even knowing if a patient will have pain.” Dr. Abubaker elaborates on the use of opioids specifically related to extraction cases, “A patient gets a dry socket. People don’t die from those, but they can die from taking Percocet.” In many cases, dental surgery is the first time kids are exposed to opioids, with the extraction of their wisdom teeth. According to Dr. Abubaker, peak pain is 8-12 hours post-surgery, but a typical prescription for pain is written for a five day period.

After his son died, Dr. Abubaker committed his career to fighting addiction, and even received a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies at VCU. When he spoke to the students in the room at this particular workshop last fall, he said that substance abuse didn’t become real for him until addiction took his own son’s life at the age of twenty-one.

Dr. Abubaker’s son became one of those 72,000 Americans, but as a grieving father and teacher committed to bettering the next generation of dentists, Dr. Abubaker asks us all as students, “to demand a change.” Dr. Abubaker recognized the need to use addictive painkillers in select cases, but emphasized that those situations need to be highly restricted and closely evaluated, rather than a prescription blindly written by a provider post-operatively for an opioid that may eventually take that patient’s life.

By the end of the workshop, not a single eye was dry. And Dr. Abubaker instilled in his audience a need for change. A change that seems like a daunting task, but one that is sure to save lives.

Emily Schuler

Emily Schuler