photo by AliveStudios.com

Fighting Opioid Access

By Kerry Parry

Lafayette oral surgeon Curt Hayes is passionate about providing the best possible care for his patients. This includes offering non-opioid alternatives to his patients because, as he puts it, “It’s just the right thing to do. It’s what I would want for my family.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 578 overdose deaths involving opioids occurred during 2017 in Colorado. The opioid crisis is a complicated issue requiring a multilayered solution. Hayes believes every health care professional has an obligation to address the problem. Doctors seeking to manage patients’ pain levels write a lot of opioid prescriptions. Colorado doctors wrote 52.9 prescriptions for every 100 patients in 2017.

When Hayes looked at the issue in his office, he realized that he was writing prescriptions for 12 to 15 thousand pills a year. “Patients often use only half of the typical 30-pill prescription, so, what happens to the rest?” Hayes says. More often than not, they end up in a medicine cabinet. “The problem is your kid, or your kid’s friend, could get ahold of them,” he says. People can obtain prescribed medication pretty readily, and not discarding unused prescriptions represents an unnecessary risk.

Teenagers in need of wisdom-tooth removal represent a majority of Dr. Hayes’ current practice, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable prescribing opioids for them. Hayes describes a scenario where opioids were an unacceptable treatment. “I had a young man who had become addicted to opioids when he was like 15 or 16. He was now in his early twenties and in pain because of his wisdom teeth. The thing was, he had been clean for six months. Why would I subject him to opioids?”

Instead, Hayes uses a drug called Exparel. It’s a local anesthetic injected around the surgery site that lasts for up to three days, without numbing the whole mouth or face. This gives patients pain relief and complete functionality during the worst of the recovery period, after which they can take ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed for a few days. Upward of 95% of Hayes’ patients choose the Exparel option, even though it’s slightly more expensive and isn’t readily covered by insurance companies, which Hayes is lobbying to change. Even with IV sedation, Hayes uses non-opioid alternatives. “It’s great not having drugs like Fentanyl in my office, making me less of a target
for break-ins.”

Hayes was born and raised in Colorado and attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in biochemistry. He received his D.D.S. degree from the University of Colorado and served as a general dentist with the Air Force in Texas, later specializing in oral surgery and becoming chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he treated trauma patients coming out of Afghanistan.

In addition to his thriving private practice, Hayes also serves in the Air Force Reserve, after serving 13 years of active duty. He and his wife of 20 years have four children and are foster parents.

Hayes retired from active duty to provide the stability of one location for his kids. Still, he believes in giving back to the community.

Hayes mentors doctors in this area through study clubs and personal interaction, as well as volunteer teaching at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. He shares his experiences and philosophies with the upcoming generation of doctors. “I believe part of being a good surgeon is providing the best care we can,” Hayes says, “and my non-opioid philosophy is part of that.”

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