A report released by the Center for Disease Control suggests that a rash of unusual amnesia cases that occurred in Massachusetts during the past few years might have caused by opioid substance abuse. Diving further into the evidence revealed that most of the patients who developed the mysterious amnesia had a history of misusing opioids. Armed with this information, authorities were able to find additional cases that seem to fit the pattern. The cases were reported in the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality report, which may ultimately result in more of the cases being identified.
The relationship between opioid abuse and loss of memory was reported first by Doctor Jed Barash, a Lahey Hospital & Medical Center neurologist in Burlington, Massachusetts. In 2015, Dr. Barash presented several cases of memory loss to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. One of the cases involved a patient with a history of heroin abuse, while the remaining three tested positive for prescription opioid abuse at the time of observation, but all four involved the mysterious amnesia. Dr. Barash proposed that there may be a link between the memory loss and the opioid abuse after all.
The patients were given an MRI scan of their brains, and it was determined that no blood was flowing to the right or left hippocampi of their respective brains. This damages the brain’s neurons in the hippocampus, and may result in an inability to form new memories.
Once Dr. Barash had reported the four cases, another ten cases were discovered throughout Massachusetts. The fourteen cases that have been identified so far took place between 2012 and 2016, and the age of the patients involved ranged from nineteen to fifty two. Out of the fourteen patients, thirteen admitted to having a history of substance abuse, while twelve admitted to having a history of abusing opioids. Eight of the fourteen patients returned positive tests for opioids at the time of treatment, while another two returned positive tests for cocaine, and one returned a positive test for benzodiazepines.
Doctors are shocked by the emerging pattern, particularly due to the relatively young age of many involved. Of the fourteen cases treated, nine were unconscious when emergency medical services arrived on the scene, and five required breathing support. One possibility doctors are considering is whether or not the memory damage might have been caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain due to opioid overdose. In fact, more professional have identified hypoxic brain injury – the damage that results when the brain is deprived of oxygen – occurring as a result of drug overdose.
However, some local doctors remain skeptical, suspecting more is going on that may be contributing to the inexplicable amnesia – perhaps something like fentanyl, or one of the other synthetic opioids that has flooded the market to meet demand, has been causing the memory loss.
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