UMN faculty member appointed to new federal pain management task force

Harold Tu

Harold K. Tu, DMD, MD, FACS, associate professor and director of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in the University of Minnesota’s School of Dentistry, was appointed to the new, federal Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force. Formed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the task force is charged with proposing updates to best practices and recommending solutions to gaps or inconsistencies in managing chronic and acute pain.

“As a nation in the midst of an opioid epidemic, we need to understand how we got to this point and what we can do to more responsibly prescribe opioids in the future,” said Tu. “We hope that through this task force, we can aid in ensuring prescribing guidelines and best practices have a foundation built on evidence-based methods of pain management.”

The task force was created as a result of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, the first federal addiction legislation of its kind in 40 years. In 2016, the latest year data is available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 40 percent (approximately 16,800 deaths) of opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid. In Minnesota, 194 people died from prescription overdose deaths in 2016.

"Dr. Tu's appointment to this federal task force reflects his passion and concern for those affected by opioid addiction,” said School of Dentistry Dean Gary Anderson, DDS, MS. “His efforts within the School of Dentistry and the University of Minnesota have led to improved understanding of effective management of acute pain in our clinics and have had a direct impact on changes in our practice. I know that he will make a difference on the task force."

Tu, as director of the Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, has experience shaping best practices and prescribing protocols for opioids. In 2016, the School of Dentistry became the first dental school in the nation to mandate new, evidence-based prescribing protocols in its clinics. The protocols call for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) alone or in combination with APAP, such as acetaminophen, as the first-line treatment for acute dental pain. Opioids can be used based on established indications and professional clinical judgement.

Since implementation, the School of Dentistry has seen a 70 percent drop in the number of opioid prescriptions. There has not been a notable increase in the number of patients requesting additional pain medication, which suggests the approach is managing pain effectively.

Along with implementing these protocols in clinics, the School of Dentistry is also teaching new prescribing protocols to dentistry students and residents, ensuring that future generations of dental professionals will graduate with an evidence-based approach to pain management.

The Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force will host its first meeting on May 30, 2018 in Washington, D.C. For more information on the task force, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website.

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05/10/2018