GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you want to change behaviors, you should try capturing hearts first.
That’s what a group of oral surgeons did at an event designed to educate dentists and doctors about the dangers of overprescribing opioids. The goal was to convince the 180 or so attendees to look for alternatives to prescribing opioids for pain relief after dental procedures.
The event, hosted by the Center for Oral Surgery and Dental Implants in Grand Rapids, featured two speakers: A recovering heroin addict who recently had teeth removed and replaced, and an oral surgeon whose son died from a heroin overdose.
“Physicians and dentists were part of the problem,” said Dr. Omar Abubaker, an oral surgeon and chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. “And physician and dentists better come up and be part of the solution.”
Abubaker’s son, Adam, died from a heroin overdose in 2014. Now, he speaks to group nationwide about the dangers of overprescribing opioids.
Abubaker thinks the opioids his son was prescribed after shoulder surgery may have started him on the path to addiction.
“There was nothing about him that was a warning sign, nothing,” said Abubaker of his son. “All of sudden, I find that he’s addicted.”
The other speaker at the event was Tyler Trowbridge, a recovering heroin addict who Target 8 first profiled in February. At that time, he was homeless and on heroin, begging for money on Grand Rapids streets.
Since then, with the help of an army of supporters recruited by a woman who went to high school with Trowbridge, the 34-year-old has gotten off heroin and into an apartment and a job.
He’s back on methadone maintenance too, which helps ease painful withdrawal while he works on his recovery.
Two members of the dental community are among the many who have supported Trowbridge in his recovery. Dr. Jake Miller, a dentist, and Dr. Mark Jesin, an oral surgeon, donated their services to remove six of Trowbridge’s teeth and replace them with temporary dentures.
Because of Trowbridge’s addiction history, Jesin used a long-acting non-opioid anesthetic, Exparel, which is injected at the surgical site.
“I really want to thank Dr. Jesin,” Trowbridge said in his speech before the attendees. “He donated all this time to help me out of his own pocket. His practice (The Center for Oral Surgery and Dental Implants) was awesome.”
Trowbridge hopes more dentists will look for ways to help people in recovery get their smiles back.
Abubaker urged the attendees to help prevent addiction on the front end by prescribing non-opioid alternatives.
Trowbridge also used the event to raise awareness of the non-profit he’s started with Stacy Peck, the high school classmate who spotted him on tv and gathered volunteers to help him get clean.
Peck, Trowbridge and Wendy Botts, whose son died of an overdose, are raising money to build a new kind of rehab facility in West Michigan, called Dirt City Sanctuary.
They passed out bags of caramel corn to the event attendees with information stapled to them about the project and how to get involved.