Drug Dependence vs. Tooth Decay: Why Patients Are Having to Make an Agonizing Choice

Opioids form an interesting class of drugs, mainly those that mimic the characteristics of the components of the opium poppy plant. These drugs are predominantly administered as an effective pain relief. 

John Hopkins Medicine states that opioids may include illicit drugs along with prescription medicine. A lot of people start using opioids for chronic or post-surgical pain only to crave it for a temporary ‘euphoria.’ Opioid addiction or dependence is a real growing problem and this article will discuss that and more. 

We will see how opioid dependence is a concerning issue. Also, we will understand why even its treatment is complicated due to the risk of tooth decay and other oral health problems

The Growing Issue of Opioid Dependence 

Let’s cut to the chase with the alarming statistics. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the 2021 data for opioid use disorder stood at 2.5 million people in the US. This is undoubtedly a grave concern. 

What’s even worse is that only 22% of the 2.5 million received any form of medication or professional assistance for their worsening condition. That means one in every five US adults with opioid dependence remains isolated or neglects the importance of rehabilitation. 

Hundreds of thousands of people die of drug overdose every year. These sad figures may be attributed to the fact that illicit drugs like fentanyl are easily available. Since these drugs’ ingredients can keep one hooked or coming back, it’s natural to develop a dependence. 

Furthermore, the drug abuser needs to consume a larger dosage each time to get the same high. This creates a vicious cycle that is extremely challenging to break free from. As per the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the following are the common symptoms of opioid dependence –

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Insomnia 
  • Mood swings, irritability, or anxiety 
  • Tremors or shaking 
  • Hot and cold flashes 
  • Uncontrollable drug cravings 
  • Vomiting or diarrhea 

Available Treatment Options 

In light of this urgent problem, it’s natural to wonder whether opioid dependence has any effective treatments available. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved at least three medications for this condition. 

These include Buprenorphine, Methadone, and Naltrexone. Among them, the former is considered to be highly effective against opioid dependence. Its effectiveness is only enhanced when available in a combined form. 

In other words, Buprenorphine and traces of Naltrexone are fused to form Suboxone, a highly potent treatment option for opioid use disorder. The medication focuses on reducing hunger for the opioid, eliminating withdrawal symptoms, and restoring the patient’s normal physiology. 

Generally, Suboxone is available in a pure tablet form. It must not be cut or chewed but simply needs to be placed under the tongue. Gradually, the tablet dissolves completely in the saliva. Patients are recommended to not eat or drink anything until the drug disappears in the mouth. 

As opposed to Suboxone, Methadone can be available in a pill or liquid form. It also primarily functions in the direction of the former, removing withdrawal symptoms and curbing cravings. The problem is that Methadone is also an opioid in the sense that it is addictive.  

Patients are advised to consume a prescribed dosage of pill or liquid daily. Even so, monitoring their consumption is a self-governed task. In case a patient develops cravings for this treatment drug, a new problem may arise. 

Finally, Naltrexone is injectable, administered only once a month in a healthcare setting. It may seem like the most ideal treatment option since no scare of dependence is involved. Here, the problem is complications like infection at the injection site, swelling, and bruising. 

The Risk of Oral Problems 

Now, let’s direct our attention to the most effective form of opioid dependence treatment, Suboxone. This medication has recently been criticized for causing painful dental problems. TorHoerman Law reveals that regular users of Suboxone have reported issues of tooth decay, oral infections, cavities, etc. 

Many have had to undergo costly and painful procedures like root canals, tooth extractions, and more. The Federal courts are even witnessing case after case piling in the Suboxone tooth decay lawsuit. Yes, the American manufacturer, Indivior, has been bashed for keeping the complications a secret. 

It is believed that the company was fully aware of the health risks involved with frequent Suboxone consumption. It most likely did not disclose them to maintain a steady supply of revenue. As of 2024, over 500 Suboxone lawsuits are pending against the manufacturer. 

The plaintiffs are eagerly anticipating a settlement date. Will it happen anytime in 2024? It seems highly unlikely. The most realistic forecast would be mid or late 2025. 

Since the connection between Suboxone and oral issues has been proven, the FDA included tooth decay warning labels in June 2022. By that time, nearly 300 similar cases of Suboxone-related injuries had been reported. 

This means the medication is still available as a probable treatment option for opioid dependence. Since it is effective (perhaps the most), patients must continue to make a tough choice.