Noted Professor Joins The Addiction Fight
Most of us have had to deal with at least one loved one who has grappled with addiction. And in the case noted Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor Dr. Omar Abubaker, the situation took an extremely tragic turn. At just 21-years-old, his son Adam fatally overdosed on heroin; leaving the professor heartbroken and on a new mission to change opioid prescribing practices.
Dr. Abubaker actually has a close connection to prescription drugs. He happens to be the chair of VCU’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, which instructs young doctors-in-training on the fundamentals of prescribing. Opioids happen to be a popular medication for patients following oral surgeries and Dr. Abubaker openly admitted that he never questioned that practice…until now.
Following the death of his son, Dr. Abubaker began researching the growing opioid epidemic, digging through stats and ultimately earning a graduate certificate in addiction studies.
“I educated myself, because I didn’t want to be talking about it emotionally as a parent,” he explained in a recent interview. “As an educator, I have to talk intelligently and scientifically.”
Part of Dr. Abubaker’s mission includes educating professionals in the dental field about the dangers of opioid abuse. While this problem has clearly received attention from doctors and pharmacists, dental professionals haven’t quite realized the impact. Recent stats from TheFix.com show that the majority of opioid prescriptions to people ages 10 to 19 come from dentists (primarily following wisdom teeth procedures).
Dr. Abubaker believes that education is a key component in limiting the amount of opioid his fellow dentists prescribe, especially since there are other effective painkillers that are much less addictive. He, like many of his colleagues, never realized the true dangers behind this particular drug.
“Before, (it wasn’t) even a thought to give a prescription for a narcotic. It’s just a practice. It’s a habit,” Dr. Abubaker told the interviewer. “Everybody that gets a tooth pulled — whether it’s one tooth or 10 teeth or all teeth — they get a prescription. And I don’t want to say I was careless, but I was like 95 percent of doctors and oral surgeons. So what I tell you about me before is reflective of the dental profession in general, and the practice of medicine.”
Abubaker’s new mission is to get that word out to those currently in practice and, just as importantly, all of the students that are part of his dentistry and oral surgery program. He also wants to lift the negative stereotypes that surround these types of addictions. Speaking about his own tragic experience with his son, Dr. Abubaker explained that clearer communication would have made a world of difference.
“We have to have compassion,” he concluded. “(My son) didn’t come to me before because he was embarrassed. I think he was embarrassed because I’m a doctor, I’m a big deal. He was worried he’d disappoint me because he was addicted, because I never thought that would happen to me.”