The findings are very significant because joint replacement surgery is increasingly common and there are sharply rising rates of opioid overdoses in the United States. Common prescription opioid painkillers include drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.
An autopsy report released Thursday showed that legendary musician Prince died in April after taking fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid painkiller. Prince was suffering from severe hip pain after years of performing intense acrobatics during his shows.
For the study, researchers looked at 574 patients undergoing knee or hip replacement surgery and found that about 30 percent of the patients were taking potentially addictive opioid painkillers before their surgery. The researchers also found that 53 percent of knee patients and 35 percent of hip patients were still taking the narcotics six months after their surgery.
The study also revealed that among patients who did not take opioids prior to having surgery, 8 percent of knee patients and 4 percent of hip patients were still taking the painkillers six months after receiving their joint replacement.
According to study authors, the strongest predictor of long-term opioid use among the study participants was taking high doses of the drugs before joint replacement surgery.
It was also found that some patients who did not use opioids before joint replacement will become chronic users after the surgery. Researcher Jenna Goesling, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said that continued narcotic painkiller use after joint replacement surgery is more common than actually thought.