Approximately one in three Medicare patients who receive prescriptions for narcotic painkillers get them from multiple doctors – a trend that could lead to an increased risk of hospitalization for these seniors, HealthDay News reported.

In a new study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers analyzed data from 1.8 million people enrolled in Medicare who received prescriptions for narcotics – also called opioids.  Narcotic painkillers include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine.

Overall, nearly 35 percent of patients were prescribed opioids from more than one doctor. And according to the study’s authors, the greater the number of prescribers, the greater the risk for hospitalization.

"Patients with four or more prescribers were twice as likely to be hospitalized for narcotics-related complications than patients receiving the same number of prescriptions from a single caregiver," study co-author Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said in a press release.

Prescriptions for opioids have increased nearly three-fold in the United States over the past 20 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Many experts have blamed these narcotics for the recent spike in heroin overdose deaths, as users often abuse painkillers before switching to heroin.

According to the Boston Globe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on a new initiative to discourage doctors from over-prescribing opioid painkillers, which are misused by more than 10 percent of Americans.

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