How Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Out Could Lead to Heroin Addiction

The opiates sometimes prescribed for the procedure can be addictive.

Getting your wisdom teeth out is a rite of passage for many, but the fairly common procedure can be a gateway to drug addiction, according to a recent medical study.

Ben Miller had his wisdom teeth extracted in 2010 when he was 17 years old. To help Miller cope with the pain, the dentist prescribed Vicodin, an opioid, according to Ben's mom, Rhonda. 

"I didn't know what opioids were," she told Inside Edition. "I just thought they were strong painkillers."

Opioids — like Vicodin, Oxycontin or Percocet — are highly addictive. 

Rhonda said Ben liked how the Vicodin made him feel. "He wanted more," she said. "We had to hide it."

According to Rhonda, it took just days for Ben to be hooked. 

"It put him on a path of a very difficult life," she recalled. "He began doctor shopping — went from doctor to doctor" — looking, she said, for more them to prescribe more painkillers.

When he couldn't find a doctor to prescribe them, Ben turned to the illegal drug heroin, as can be the case among opioid addicts. Heroin is also an opioid, but one that's much more potent than prescription opioids.

Six years after his wisdom teeth were removed, Ben died of an overdose. 

Ben is not alone — according to a new Stanford University School of Medicine study, 6 percent of teens and young adults who were prescribed opiates, that is, drugs derived from opium, by a dentist became addicted within a year. 

"That number was even larger for young girls — 10 percent — it's a wake-up call for the dental community to look for alternates," said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Ceelie Snarr told Inside Edition her dentist offered her Percocet for pain but she turned it down, opting for over-the-counter painkillers instead. And many dentists are now recommending you do the same. 

"Motrin and Tylenol has been shown to be just as effective as an opioid drug and that has become our standard of care," Dr. Mark Vitale told Inside Edition.