Another Scary Side of Fentanyl: Memory Loss

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memory loss There’s a lot of talk about the high risk of overdose from fentanyl – a dose the size of a grain of sand can kill – but what about those who do survive? Well, new research shows that their memory could be at risk. Using fentanyl or other opioids alongside other illicit drugs could trigger possibly permanent amnesia caused by brain damage, according to recent finding published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In fact, over a dozen cases have emerged in which individuals abusing these drugs have developed severe short-term memory loss, possibly after experiencing an overdose, said Marc Haut, chair of West Virginia University’s department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, in a statement.

“They all have difficulty learning new information, and it’s pretty dense,” Haut explained. “Every day is pretty much a new day for them, and sometimes within a day they can’t maintain information they’ve learned.”

Imaging scans of these patients revealed lesions on the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory. And based upon the imaging, “I would be surprised if they didn’t have at least some significant memory problems permanently,” Haut said.

One possible explanation: An undetected drug overdose that temporarily stopped their heart or lungs, cutting the flow of oxygen to their brain, he suggested.

“You get that cutoff of oxygen and that can produce lesions like this, but not to this extent typically,” Haut said. “We think the fentanyl is adding to that effect and exacerbating that effect,” possibly when taken in combination with a stimulant like cocaine.

Here’s the scariest part: These memory problems might prevent these individuals from getting a chance at recovery, since they can’t learn from their mistakes, Haut said.

“We talk a lot about people who don’t survive overdoses, but we aren’t talking about people who survive repeated overdoses and the impact that might have on them and their functioning,” Haut said. “If their memory is really compromised, it’s going to be hard for them to learn a new life that doesn’t involve drugs.”

More Facts About Fentanyl

  • Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
  • One touch could be fatal; officers don’t even handle it with their bare hands.
  • If you overdose, you’ll need four to five doses of naloxone — a drug that effectively reverses the effect. Typically, one or two is needed for heroin.
  • It can take up to two months to get over fentanyl withdrawal.

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