The Health Section

An alternative to opioids for wisdom tooth extractions

Aetna has begun reimbursing for the use of EXPAREL, a long-lasting, non-opioid alternative, for select wisdom tooth extractions. The initiative aims to responsibly minimize the prescribing of opioids in the United States.

When used with impacted third molar (wisdom tooth) surgery, EXPAREL delivers postsurgical pain relief in the days following surgery, when pain is typically at its worst. The initiative is a collaboration between Aetna, Pacira Pharmaceutical and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons.

“We believe that EXPAREL can play a meaningful role in helping achieve Aetna’s goal of reducing unnecessary opioid prescriptions by 50 percent by 2022,” said Mary Lee Conicella, chief dental officer for Aetna. “The goal of the program is that oral surgeons participating in the program will reduce the number of opioid tablets they prescribe or prescriptions that they write for impacted wisdom tooth extractions by 50 percent or more. Ultimately, our goal is to make an opioid-free third molar experience available to all patients.”

Prescriptions for opioids, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, have increased from about 76 million in 1991 to 259 million in 2012. Dentists prescribe 12 percent of all immediate-release opioids in the U.S. Among 10- to 19-year-old patients, dentists were the main prescribers.

The collaboration is a continuation of Aetna’s work to help fight the opioid crisis in the U.S., where more than 90 people die every day. In 2017, Aetna reached out to super-prescribing dentists and oral surgeons to encourage them to change their practices; the effort was an extension of a 2016 initiative when Aetna sent letters to super-prescribing doctors.

Read more information and details about Aetna’s commitment and efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.