A recent report out of West Virginia University provides the first hard evidence that Fentanyl overdoses may cause lasting amnesia. While there is not enough evidence to make a definitive statement, there is enough to merit further research.
According to the case study prepared by Marc Haut, the chair of West Virginia University’s department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, a 30-year old man was admitted to the WVU hospital suffering from severe amnesia and an apparent overdose. He had recently been released from a drug rehabilitation program, and family members found him in his room surrounded by drug paraphernalia, repeating the same questions over and over.
Traces of cocaine were discovered in his body along with the by-products of Fentanyl. An MRI revealed damage to his hippocampus in the form of lesions. This area of the brain is an integral part of memory function. Damage here can have severe effects on a person’s ability to learn, retain information, and form long term memories. This individual is the first case with hard evidence of a Fentanyl overdose causing lasting amnesia.
Compounding An Already Serious Problem
Fentanyl is an especially dangerous drug, being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 25 to 50 times more so than heroin. With this level of potency, it is an easy drug to become addicted to.
The recent crackdown on prescription opioids is leading to increased use of heroin, cocaine, and other street substances as substitutes. Unfortunately, drug dealers are lacing heroin with Fentanyl. Why? Because Fentanyl is cheaper and more powerful than heroin, the dealer can replace heroin with Fentanyl and achieve the same effect. The dealer now has a more abundant supply of drugs to sell.
Not that purchasing street drugs has ever been a safe option, but lacing with Fentanyl makes it more dangerous than ever. Because of lacing and other issues with manufacturing and handling, the buyer never knows for sure what they might be purchasing.
The result of this switch in substances being used has resulted in a different pattern of overdoses as the graphic below from a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data brief, illustrates. Notice the increase in overdose fatalities in heroin, synthetic opioids (includes Fentanyl), and cocaine.
What Is Fentanyl And How Does It Harm Users?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is:
A powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a schedule II prescription drug, and it is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®. Street names for fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains how opioids work in the user’s body:
They act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors. These receptors are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body.
When opioids and other drugs attach to these receptors, they change how the brain senses pain and replace it with feelings of euphoria, the attractive aspect of opioid use. Also, opioids and Fentanyl act to inhibit some of the autonomic processes of the body. Some effects are the slowing heart and breathing rates.
What happens with reduced breathing rates is that, in a sense, the body forgets to breathe on its own. Reduced, or even stopped, breathing rates can occur and reduce oxygen flow to the brain. The user may experience blackouts, coma, and more recently, amnesia. It seems the Fentanyl also attacks areas of the brain directly, creating lesions.
Why Is Fentanyl-Induced Amnesia An Issue?
The Brain Injury Institute of America classifies the damage Fentanyl, and other drugs create as a toxic brain injury (TBI). While hard evidence is still scarce, it appears there is a strong correlation between substance abuse and brain injury. Some of the brain injuries are caused by the substance itself, as already mentioned. Others occur from accidents the user experiences while under the influence of drugs.
An effective, working memory is vital to any rehab and recovery process. In the cases where Fentanyl may cause lasting amnesia, the patient is going to have a harder time recovering as their amnesia limits, or eliminates, what they can remember of their therapies. For patients suffering from other TBIs in addition to their addiction, treatment plans must be devised to address both the TBI and the addiction.
Learn More About How Fentanyl Overdoses May Cause Lasting Amnesia
This is a rapidly developing field of study, and new information becomes available every day. If you have concerns about Fentanyl abuse — whether or not it is causing lasting amnesia — contact or call Carus Recovery Center at 877-225-7724 today. Let our highly experienced professional staff assist you and provide the answers you seek.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of professional assistance.