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Oral Surgery Drug Hopes To Cut Back On Addictions

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - It's summertime, which means a lot of wisdom teeth are coming out for young people before they head back to school.  If you've had oral surgery, you know the pain that comes after. Usually opioid medications are prescribed to cope with the recovery.

Now, local surgeons are offering a drug designed to cut back on pain killer addictions. The drug is called Exparel.

For 18-year-old Bettina Rebman, it made a big difference in her recovery after her wisdom teeth were removed.

"The extra numbness lasted for a solid day and a half and it definitely, I was off of the hydrocodone by the third day," Rebman said.

Exparel is described as a nice way to get through the acute pain after surgery. It's an injection in the gums that leaves you numb for several days after the procedure.

"So far, the studies have shown that you use about 50-percent less narcotic medication, and the idea is that you're not exposed to the opiates as much and you're less likely to get addicted to these medications," Dr. Denis Miller, oral surgeon at Siouxland Oral Surgery, said. 

In 2016, there were 42 opioid-related deaths in South Dakota. This year, there have been 12 deaths in just Sioux Falls.

Rebman has seen first-hand how intense those addictions can be in young people.

"They end up craving it so badly that they do something to harm themselves to get more of it. Which is honestly really scary," Rebman said. 

"The problem is the narcotics also have a euphoric effect. So, if you're taking the medication purely for the pain aspect, and controlling pain, you typically don't get hooked. The problem is there's a  percentage of the population that now feels good with it," Miller said. 

Now with Exparel in the mix, local oral surgeons hope to see fewer people struggling with this deadly addiction.

Exparel does come with a warning; if it's not injected properly, it can cause permanent numbness.

Miller says because the drug is fairly new, most insurance companies will not cover the costs. He hopes when more evidence comes out proving its benefits, more insurance coverage will be available.


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