With overdose deaths at record high, surgeons look for alternatives to treat teens' post-op pain

When 18-year old Kelly Beck came to see Powder Springs, Georgia, oral and maxillofacial surgeon Scott Rose two weeks ago to have her wisdom teeth removed, she was a little nervous about the pain.

"I was walking in scared about how it would go, how the recovery would go," Beck says.

Dental surgery is often the first time many teenagers and young adults are prescribed a prescription painkiller known as an opioid. Experts say the vast majority will take the medication as directed, with no issues. But because teenagers brains are still developing, the idea of  introducing them to a potentially-addictive medication for post-surgical pain makes Dr. Rose uneasy.
So, he offered Beck and her mom a non-narcotic pain treatment, and they agreed to try it.

"We just wanted to do it," Beck says.  "It seemed like a better option I wouldn't have to take any hardcore pain medication."

Instead of sending Beck home with a prescription for pain pills, Dr. Rose injected her with a long-lasting numbing medication known as EXPAREL during her dental procedure.

"So the medication is delivered at or around the surgical site, and it keeps the area numb and pain-free for the first 3 days after surgery," Dr. Rose explains.

The numbing treatment helps get patients through that initial post-op period when the pain is the most severe, Rose says. Dr. Rose says about 90 to 95% of the parents of his teen patients are choosing EXPAREL over the pills, even though some of them have to pay an additional $300 for it.
Right now, he says, it's only covered by Aetna in his practice.

"And I think it tells us how important this opioid problem has become, and how cognizant the patients and the parents are."

It's an issue deeply personal to Dr. Rose.

"One of the biggest events that has stemmed this is the death of my younger brother, who passed away from an opioid addiction in 2006," Rose says. "I probably don't go a day without thinking about him and his circumstances."

A few days after her surgery, Kelly Beck says the pain she expected never came.

"It was not bad at all," Beck says.