Opioid Abuse May Cause Amnesia

Two heads with visible brains

Abuse of opioid drugs may lead to the apparition of sudden-onset amnesia

Addiction to opioids may bring about more health problems that it was formerly known. The Massachusetts health officials found that short-term memory loss is a consequence of opioid use.

On Thursday, they reported of a number of 14 patients who forgot things that had just been told to them. They also showed abnormal results on MRI brain scans. Doctors call this condition sudden-onset amnesia. They suggest that this new type of amnesia is caused by the use of opioid drugs.

These 14 cases of sudden-onset amnesia occurred from 2012 to 2016. The report show that 13 of these 14 patients either had a history of opioid abuse or were still active consumers. Twelve of them admitted they had used opioids. The substances they consumed include prescription painkillers that contained opioids (Oxycontin, Percocet) and even heroin.

Six of the patients also reported having taken benzodiazepines, which are generally sedatives that relieve anxiety, while five of them had taken cocaine.

This study cannot prove that narcotic use is the direct cause of amnesia, but the figures cannot be ignored. Moreover, the patients were aged from 19 to 52 years, thus it is unlikely that their memory loss was due to strokes or dementia.

More evidence in defense of the opioid hypothesis is brought by the MRI scans. The abnormalities appeared to have been caused by a toxic substance and not by damage on the blood vessels.

The studies do not show if the impairment is permanent. However, the report published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the majority of patients improved their memory over time. One of them regained his memory completely over five months. However, two patients still recorded memory problems over a year.

The researchers hope that this report will make doctors take into consideration substance abuse when diagnosing memory problems. Opioid drug use may actually cause sudden-onset amnesia.

Doctors declare that this case is quite unique and they have not yet met something similar, but they agree that narcotic abuse and memory loss may be related.

What it is most important is that doctors should ask their patients about the history of their opioid drug consumption. Thus, they may diagnose more easily and find a more effective way of treatment.
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