Study Reports that Chronic Opioid Use Increased After Weight Loss Surgery

According to an October 2013 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 77% of patients stayed on painkillers a year after weight loss surgery occurred. Ultimately, bariatric patients who already used painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin increased their intake by nearly 13% in the first year after weight loss surgery and 18% three years after the procedure. The study was conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver and was supported by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Since the 1980s, the number of opioid prescriptions in America has increased by 4 times and accidental overdoses have increased just as much. Ultimately, reducing the demand for chronic painkillers is an important goal for the medical community.

The researchers found that weight loss levels, depression or chronic pain all did not seem to be significant factors in the painkiller use. Ultimately, the study shows an increased need for chronic pain management in weight loss surgery patients in the years that follow surgery.

Many patients believe that losing excess weight will help them to experience less chronic pain, but most often that is not the case and other things must be evaluated in order to relieve pain. However, because of the lack of diminishing pain, increased use of painkillers prevails. The study believes that the lack of decline in opioid prescriptions doesn’t contribute positively to the increase of usage. Unfortunately, the study found that morphine equivalents increased over time after surgery.

The study looked at 11,719 adults who endured bariatric surgery from 2005 to 2009 in 10 large health networks. The study found that in the year before surgery 8% or 933 patients were chronic painkiller users with at least 10 dispensing three months before surgery. Daily morphine dosages rose from 45 mg in the year before surgery to nearly 52 mg in the year after (the 30 days after surgery is not included as it is clear that the medication is needed after the surgical procedure).

The study also found that a loss of at least half of the excess body mass index (BMI) did not change the use of the drugs even a year after surgery. In coordination with other studies, this research found that their findings showed an increase of 3% more patients experiencing a painkiller problem after surgery due to chronic pain.

While the fact that weight loss surgery does not improve pain is, unfortunately, the only option for patients is acetaminophen, which probably won’t be strong enough to stop the pain. However, continued use of narcotic nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to an increased risk of ulcers. Also, in terms of physicians, there is no real threshold for considering when to take a patient off of pain medication especially if a patient is uncomfortable or emotional because of their pain. This study shows an increased need for reporting of better pain management strategies to be implemented in future weight loss surgery patients with chronic pain.