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Alumni News Kevin Storr November 22, 2021

Gia Pittet, Au.D., Ph.D., recent graduate of the UAB School of Health Professions’ PhD in Administration-Health Services program, has earned international media coverage for her PhD dissertation.

Her work, titled “Identification of Risk Factors for New Persistent Opioid Use After Surgery,” found more than one in five opioid-naïve patients still use opioids beyond 90 post-operative days. The study identified smokers, plus those with bipolar disorder, depression, and pulmonary hypertension as the top potentially modifiable factors at a higher risk for persistent opioid use. Other significant factors included patients of Black or Pacific Islander race, cases with cardiac and podiatry proceduralist specialties, and patients undergoing cardiac surgery.

Pittet presented her findings at the American Society of Anesthesiologists 2021 annual meeting. The ASA chose to issue a press release about her findings and the news was picked up by numerous media outlets.

“My abstract was picked up by over 370 national and international news agencies, including pharmacies, hospital associations and physician and patient information sites,” said Pittet, who was lead author of the study. “This is wonderful, because the first step of the process of change is to be aware of the problem. This news should act as a disruption to the current prescribing practices, and the need for follow-up beyond the immediate discharge phase through to the primary care physician.”

She came across this area of research while visiting with her husband, Jean-Francois Pittet, MD, the David Hill Chestnut Endowed Professor in the UAB Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was working as an adjunct faculty member. Dr. Aman Mahajan, the Chair of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at UCLA, granted her access to unexplored anesthesia opioid data with help from Dr. Maxime Cannesson’s UCLA research team.

Gia Pittet ConferencePittet and her team analyzed the data of nearly 14,000 opioid-naïve adults who had surgery at UCLA hospitals between 2013 – 2019, merging the data with the narcotics data from the state of California.

“I knew that understanding WHO to target for an alternative care pathway could potentially prevent any opioid abuse from occurring, and this would have a huge downstream societal and economic consequence,” said Pittet, who spent two years as a visiting graduate researcher at UCLA. “Using my knowledge and experience I created both a top-down and bottom-up approach to target pre-operative predictors to analyze, with not only patient-level predictors but also payer strategies and surgical factors.”

Pittet, who is a clinician herself, hopes her research work and all the coverage it has received will ultimately save lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that of the nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019, 70 percent involved an opioid. It is a startling fact to many, and one Pittet hopes her work will change. 

“I hope that physicians use this information to enhance physician-led patient-centric care decisions because surgery IS a gateway to opioid abuse, and several of the factors we identified could be medically optimized before surgery,” said Pittet.

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