Opioids and Weight Loss Surgery

Opioids and Weight Loss Surgery

According to a new study published in the journal Surgical Endoscopy, a third of patients in Michigan who elected to have weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) between 2018 and 2020 had a high risk of a prescription drug overdose.

Alarmingly, following their surgeries, these high-risk patients were far more likely to be prescribed a second opioid (one different from the one initially given for postoperative pain) than patients with a lower risk of an overdose.

Looking closely at the data, the research team found that physicians gave eighty-three percent of at-risk patients ten or more pills of a second opioid to help them manage post-surgical pain, increasing their risk of an overdose. No low-risk patients received an additional opioid prescription.

Of note, physicians not connected to the bariatric surgery program wrote most of the secondary opioid prescriptions.

Oliver Varban, M.D., the co-director of the adult bariatric surgery program at University of Michigan Health and an associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, says one of their goals is to reduce the number of opioids prescribed to this patient population. Varban believes assessing overdose risk pre-surgery may help inform physician prescribing options, further reducing the risk of an overdose.

At a minimum, Varban feels there should be much better follow-up with high-risk patients to find more appropriate, non-narcotic pain control options.

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