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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Pittsburgh: Finds Weight-Loss Patients at Higher Risk of Death From Substance Use Disorders

The death rate from drug- and alcohol-related causes in people who’ve had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery is nearly triple that of the general public, according to University of Pittsburgh research published in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases, the journal of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

The study also found that fewer than half of those who died had triggered a safety protocol for problematic substance use. Only one of those who died was known to have received treatment for substance use disorder.

“Increasingly with bariatric surgery patients, we’re finding that the tools that clinicians traditionally use to screen for drug or alcohol problems don’t work well to identify those at risk,” said lead author Dr. Gretchen White, epidemiologist in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery. “These deaths are an extreme and sad example of a problem that needs to be addressed.”

For seven years, Dr. White and her colleagues followed 2,458 adults who underwent bariatric surgery.

Reflecting typical bariatric surgery patients, the majority of study participants were female (79 percent) and white (86 percent). At time of surgery, the median age was 46 years old. During the seven-year follow-up, 10 of the participants died of causes directly related to drug- and alcohol-use.

“While drug- and alcohol-related deaths were too rare to identify risk factors, it is noteworthy that the demographics of those who died were similar to the full sample. Based on demographics, bariatric surgery patients should be a low-risk group for substance-related death,” said senior author Dr. Wendy King, associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

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