Weight-loss surgeons from across the United States are attempting to distance themselves from surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising for Lap-Band surgery.
In a letter to House members considering a congressional investigation of the Lap-Band and the massive Southern California ad campaign, the surgeons said it's important to note that not all weight-loss centers are created equal.
They said nonprofit groups, including the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, review outpatient clinics and award the top facilities with a Center of Excellence rating.
None of the surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN ads plastered on roadside billboards and pitched on radio and television hold the Center of Excellence rating, according to the Jan. 24 letter, signed by 30 doctors from such places as San Diego, Fort Worth, Chicago and New York.
In addition, the surgeons said obese patients are best served by weight-loss clinics that offer a variety of options — not exclusively the Lap-Band.
"The recent reports of tragic deaths from the 1-800-GET-THIN group in Los Angeles is an example of a 'one-size-fits-all surgical approach,' with devastating consequences," the surgeons said in the letter.
At least five Lap-Band patients have died since 2009 after surgeries at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
Konrad Trope, an attorney who represents the surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, said in an email that his clients "do not consider a Lap-Band as a one-size-fits-all approach to bariatric surgery."
"Those who choose to have Lap-Band surgery do so of their own individual choice, after researching the Lap-Band and attending a free seminar that provides them with various weight-loss options, including the Lap-Band," Trope said in the email.
Robert Silverman, president of the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing firm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) questioned the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the Lap-Band in a letter he sent to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He said Congress should subpoena documents from 1-800-GET-THIN and Lap-Band manufacturer Allergan Inc.
The letter cited a series of articles in The Times about patient deaths and recent studies that have questioned the long-term effectiveness of the Lap-Band, a ring that is surgically implanted around the stomach to discourage overeating.
"We believe the committee should hold hearings to examine whether FDA device regulation has been ineffective in protecting the public from dangerous medical devices like the Lap-Band," Waxman and Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said in the letter.
The surgeons' letter calling for caution in evaluating the Lap-Band was addressed to Waxman and other members of Congress who could play a role in the investigation.
"As a group that prides itself on the highest standards, we offer our condolences to the families of those patients who have suffered," the surgeons said. "We urge that patients and colleagues alike focus on a multidisciplinary approach to a complex chronic illness and not rush to condemn a single procedure that has been a vital tool in the successful treatment of thousands of our patients."