But people don’t seem to be avoiding the medications, despite the well-documented risks. In the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll, over half of people surveyed, or 57 percent, said they had been prescribed a narcotic painkiller like Percocet, Vicodin or morphine at some point. That’s an increase of 3 percent since we last asked the question in 2014 (54 percent), and of 7 percent since our 2011 poll (50 percent).
For almost three quarters of poll participants (74 percent), the prescription was for temporary acute pain, like from a broken arm or a dental procedure. Nineteen percent said they received the drugs for chronic pain.
“The drugs are like a two-edged sword,” says Ron Ozminkowski, vice president of cognitive analytics in the value-based care pillar at IBM Watson Health, who works with Truven on the poll. “They’re great for people who really need them for heavy duty pain, but they come with addiction risk and side effects.”