Drug, Alcohol Deaths Soar After Weight-Loss Surgery

By | June 21, 2019

THURSDAY, June 20, 2019 (HealthDay News) — A new study offers some sobering news about weight-loss surgery.

People who undergo a gastric bypass procedure called Roux-en-Y are three times more likely than those in the general population to die of drug- or alcohol-related causes, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

The reason isn’t clear, but laboratory studies have shown that Roux-en-Y surgery changes the way the body reacts to drugs and alcohol.

“The effect is purely physiological, not psychological,” said Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Yale School of Medicine, who reviewed the findings. “Gastric bypass surgery removes 95% of the stomach. Alcohol receptors exist in the stomach and the liver, so by removing so much of the stomach, people lose the first pass at metabolizing alcohol.”

Morton was not involved in the study but has published research on the topic.

For this study, the Pitt researchers followed nearly 2,500 adults who had weight-loss surgery at one of 10 hospitals across the United States. About eight out of 10 were women and 86% were white. Their median age was 46, meaning half were older, half younger. The patients were followed for seven years.

During that time, 10 of the study participants died of causes directly related to drug or alcohol use.

That included six accidental drug overdoses; one intentional drug overdose; one overdose where intent was unknown; and two from alcoholic liver disease. All 10 had had a Roux-en-Y bypass, which reduces the stomach size and shortens the intestine.

As with other forms of “bariatric” (weight-loss) surgery, having a smaller stomach makes people feel full sooner, so they lose weight.

To compare patient death rates with those in the general population, researchers used a formula called “person-years.” It measures the number of people studied and number of years each participated in the study.

On average, there were 89 deaths per 100,000 person-years among Roux-en-Y patients, compared to 30.5 per 100,000 in the general population, the investigators found.

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