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A new study suggests people undergoing weight-loss surgery who were chronic users of opioid painkillers before the procedure increase their drug intake afterwards. The findings surprised the researchers, who said they thought the dramatic weight loss that generally follows the surgery would alleviate patients’ pain in the knees, back and other joints.

People undergoing weight-loss surgery who regularly used painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin increased their intake of these drugs by 13 percent in the first year after surgery, and by 18 percent in the three years after the procedure, HealthDay reports.

The study included data from more than 11,700 adults who had weight-loss surgery. About 8 percent were chronic users of opioids. Among these patients, 77 percent continued taking opioids during the year after surgery. The amount of weight a person lost did not influence their drug use, the researchers noted.

“One possible explanation is that some patients likely had pain unresponsive to weight loss but potentially responsive to opioids,” the authors write in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

“We have patients who have pain that simply doesn’t respond to weight loss,” study author Marsha Raebel of Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver told Healthday. “If the patient thinks that’s the reason they’re going to have bariatric surgery, there should be some counseling to explain their pain may or may not get better after surgery.”

She said that people who are obese are more sensitive to pain and have lower pain thresholds than people who aren’t obese. “This altered pain processing continues even after they undergo bariatric surgery,” she added.


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