Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) was awarded an $11.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, (NIH) for research on the combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen as an alternative to opioids.

Although smaller, shorter-term studies indicate that combining the two medications can treat acute pain as effectively as opioids, the RSDM study  would involve 1,800 subjects. The grant, which will support principal investigator and study lead Dean Cecile A. Feldman for up to six years, is from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the NIH.

Study participants will be dental school patients prescribed analgesics after molar extractions and will be followed for up to seven days post-surgery. “We want, as much as possible, to duplicate real-life conditions in the clinic,’’ said  Feldman.

According to Feldman, dental clinics are an ideal setting for opioid research because dentists and oral surgeons prescribe the drugs at higher rates than many other medical practitioners. “A large part of our job is managing acute and chronic pain,’’ she explained.

For the study, half of the patients will be receiving a compound of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, known as Vicodin, while others will be treated with acetaminophen and ibuprofen. For seven days, they will keep a log tracking their level of pain, self-dosages, and common opioid side effects such as nausea and sleep quality.

“The pain isn’t the only thing you need to take into consideration,’’ said Feldman. “People will put up with a slightly higher level of pain if they can avoid side effects and have a higher quality of life during the recovery period.’’

Future opioid use will also be tracked to see if subjects who received opioids were more likely to use or abuse them over time.

In pilot studies at RSDM, , patients who received the ibuprofen and acetaminophen reported fewer side effects than patients who received opioids, and their levels of pain reduction were comparable.

The study will also be conducted in dental school clinics at the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan and the University of Rochester.

“We’re very hopeful that the results of our research could significantly reduce America’s epidemic levels of opioid abuse while still providing relief for pain,’’ said Feldman.