What can teens do to prevent addiction to opioid pain medications?

For many teens, their first experience with opioid pain medications is through a prescription from their dentist or oral surgeon to manage acute pain after a dental procedure. Some research says that even taking opioids as prescribed, such as after wisdom teeth extraction, makes teens 33 percent more likely to misuse opioids later on.5 Teens might like how prescription opioids make them feel. They could ask for more medication just to get that feeling again, not realizing how dangerous these medications can be when used for the wrong reasons.

Together with your parents, talk with your dentist about the best way to manage dental pain. You can also include your pediatrician in the conversation, especially if you are being treated with other kinds of medications for different health issues.

Non-Opioid Options for Managing Mouth Pain

Ask your dentist or oral surgeon if there is an option other than prescription opioids to treat your pain. Research in adults suggests that non-opioid medications might offer the best balance between benefits and possible harms. Non-opioid options include the following over-the-counter drugs either alone or in combination:

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (example: Advil)
  • acetaminophen (example: Tylenol)6

What To Do if Opioids Are Prescribed

If the dentist or oral surgeon decides to prescribe an opioid pain medicine:7,8

  • Ask if there are other ways to relieve the pain besides opioids.
  • Ask when you can switch to a non-opioid pain medication.
  • Tell the dentist or oral surgeon about your medical history and any medications you are taking. It might not be safe to take opioids with some other medications.
  • Tell the dentist or oral surgeon about any substance use disorders or addiction in your family. This will help the dentist decide if opioids are safe for you.
  • Ask the dentist or oral surgeon about the medication prescribed:
    • When and how should you take the medication?
    • How long should you take it?
    • What are the side effects?
    • Should you take it with food?
    • Is it okay to drive while you’re on the medication? Read about drugged driving.
  • Take the medication according to the directions.
  • Never mix opioid medications with alcohol.
  • Never share the medication with others or sell it to anyone.
  • Store the medication in a cool, dry place, out of reach of young children.
  • Dispose of unused medication properly. Read about how to dispose of prescription drugs.

5 Miech R, Johnston L, O'Malley PM, Keyes KM, Heard K. Prescription opioids in adolescence and future opioid misuse. Pediatrics. 2015 Nov;136(5):e1169-77. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1364. (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA] and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant support).

6 Moore PA, Ziegler KM, Lipman RD, Aminoshariae A, Carrasco-Labra A, Mariotti A. Benefits and harms associated with analgesic medications used in the management of acute dental pain: An overview of systematic reviews. JADA. April 2018, 149(4):256–265.

7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). "Opioids." Last Reviewed July 2018. Available at https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/opioids/more-info.

8 American Dental Association, Mouth Healthy. "Opioids." Available at https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/opioids.