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Opioid painkillers such as fentanyl now given to half of all hospital patients, study reveals

A new study has found that more than half of non-surgical hospital patients are given powerful opioid painkillers such as fentanyl. The widespread use of these drugs raises concerns about the increased risk of addiction and overdose faced by patients who are given these powerful medications by doctors and hospitals.

According to researchers at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 51% of patients who are admitted to the hospital for reasons other than surgery are given opioids such as fentanyl, as well as other powerful painkillers like morphine and OxyContin. More than half of these patients were still being given painkillers on the day they were discharged from the hospital, the study found.

Even more alarmingly, researchers found that patients who were given narcotic painkillers in the hospital were at a higher risk of complications. Hospitals were opioid painkillers were prescribed less frequently had significantly lower rates of addiction and overdose among patients, researchers said.

Doctors and hospitals who over-prescribe prescription painkillers to their patients may be putting them in danger of serious and potentially fatal health complications. Overdoses from prescription painkillers are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., surpassing car accidents in 2008 for the first time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 14,000 Americans die every year from prescription drug overdoses.