More people are taking opioids in America

Nearly half of fatal overdoses in the United States involve opioids prescribed by a doctor.

Fentanyl, drug, US, Prince, epidemic, drug users, homless, opioids

This file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt | Image: Toby Talbot / AP/Press Association Images

Over half of people in the US said they had been prescribed a narcotic painkiller like Percocet, Vicodin or morphine at some point, according to a new survey.

It's an increase of 3% since the last NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll in 2014. For almost three quarters of poll participants (74%), 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that as many as 1 in 4 people who use opioid painkillers get addicted to them.

Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on opioids in 2014, and it's estimated that over 1,000 people a day are admitted to emergency departments for misuse of prescription opioids.

But despite the drugs' reputation for addiction, less than a third of people (29%) said they questioned or refused their doctor's prescription for opioids. 

"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."

Almost half of people who said they hadn't used narcotic painkillers said they had concerns about them, up significantly from 30% in 2014 and 2011. Getting addicted to painkillers was their top concern (39%).