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Many Patients Continue To Take Prescription Opioid Painkiller Months After Hip, Knee Replacement

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Results of toxicology tests that probe into the death of popstar Prince revealed that the early demise of the singer was caused by Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug. The incident has highlighted a problem that many other Americans currently face: opioid addiction.

Now, a new study reveals a factor the partly contributes to the likelihood of people to get hooked on prescription drugs.

The study, which was published in the June issue of journal Pain, found that months after joint replacement surgery, many patients continue to take powerful prescription opioid painkillers.

The result of the study is crucial given both the rising number of joint replacement surgeries and the increasing rate of opioid overdose in the U.S.

Prince, who died in April, is known to have suffered from ankle and hip problems. He had hip replacement surgery in 2010. He is also known to have used Percocet, a common prescription opioid painkiller starting 2006 when he began to experience pain.

For the new study, Jenna Goesling, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues looked at more than 500 patients who underwent knee or hip replacement surgery.

Of the participants, about 30 percent took opioid drugs prior to the surgery. Six months after surgery, 53 percent of knee patients and 35 percent of hip patients who belong to this group continued to take narcotics.

Among those who did not take opioid drugs prior to the surgery, 4 percent of hip patients and 8 percent of the knee patients continued to take the drugs 6 months after the surgery.

The researchers said that the strongest predictor of long-term use of opioid among the participants was taking high doses of the drugs prior to the surgery, albeit there are some of those who did not use opioids before the surgery who became chronic users after the operation.

The researchers also noted that they did not find a link between persistent opioid use and persistent knee or hip pain, suggesting that some patients continue using opioids regardless of improvement in hip or knee pain, and that other factors likely influence long term use of opioid painkillers after a surgical intervention.

"We hypothesize that the reasons patients continue to use opioids may be due to pain in other areas, self-medicating affective distress, and therapeutic opioid dependence," the researchers wrote.

More than 40 people die each day from accidental overdose of painkillers. In a bid to fight America's opioid epidemic, President Obama has sought $1.1 billion funding to address the problem of prescription opioid and heroin addiction.

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