With New Jersey's heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic continuing to spiral out of control, dozens of Central Jersey dentists, police chiefs and school superintendents will gather Thursday evening in East Brunswick for a special opiate abuse forum.

“We always feel if we can educate people, let them know what we see, that it’s really a good first part of prevention, it’s the first step,” said Dennis Mihalopoulos, the assistant special agent in charge of the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He says opiate painkillers were originally designed to be used by terminal cancer patients, but that’s no longer the case.

“Somewhere over the course of the last 10, 15, 20 years it’s become acceptable for doctors to prescribe these for even some minor procedures. Therein lies the problem because these drugs are very addictive,” he said.

Dr. Martin Ladman, an oral surgeon and co-director of the Forum for Advanced Dental Studies, agrees it’s important for dentists to understand the scope of the opiate abuse problem.

“Opiates may be given for dental pain, so as prescribers we should be aware of proper procedure for numbers, dosing, judging and controlling prescriptions,” he said.

Ladman noted dentists also need to watch out for “patients who might be seeking medication and opiates by directly asking. There are certain patients that shop doctors in search of narcotic pain medication.”

He said depending on the particular circumstance, an opiate painkiller may not be needed for dental work.

“There are a limited number of non-narcotic medications that can be used, most notably ibuprofen, and Tylenol itself,” he said. “Sometimes these medications combined with an opiate might be effective in controlling the pain associated with dental infection, disease or surgical procedures.”

Mihalopoulos pointed out not too long ago it was rare for investigators to seize more than a kilo of heroin. But with prescription drug abuse feeding the heroin addiction problem, that’s changed dramatically.

“Now it’s completely turned around where we don’t even see cocaine much anymore, it’s all heroin, and we’ll see heroin 30 kilos, 50 kilos, sometimes a hundred kilos at a time,” he said. “The opioid epidemic is really feeding the heroin epidemic. This is what we try and speak with the physicians on, let them know what we’re seeing and hope that we can attack the problem together.”

He also noted parents may not be aware of how addictive these drugs can be.

“When a doctor prescribes something, you obviously trust your doctor and you’ll take it, but because of the addictive nature of these substances, it becomes a real problem,” he said.

The presentation, organized by the Forum for Advanced Dental Studies, will include dentists and community leaders from the following towns:

Old Bridge
East Brunswick
Matawan
Manalapan
Jamesburg
Monroe
Spotswood
Englishtown
South River
Marlboro/Morganville

The program will also include a presentation by Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

More from New Jersey 101.5: