Fentanyl and Memory Loss: Here’s How Early Abusers are Getting Hit

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Using fentanyl or other opioids alongside other illicit drugs could trigger possibly permanent amnesia caused by brain damage, doctors warn.

Over a dozen cases have emerged in which drug abusers have developed severe short-term memory loss, possibly after experiencing an overdose, said Marc Haut. He’s chair of West Virginia University’s department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry.

“They all have difficulty learning new information, and it’s pretty dense,” Haut said. “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 patients revealed lesions on the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory, Haut explained.

These amnesiac drug users do not recover quickly, and there’s some question whether they will ever fully regain their short-term memory, Haut added.

“Based upon the imaging, I would be surprised if they didn’t have at least some significant memory problems permanently,” Haut said.

The latest case occurred in May 2017, when doctors at a West Virginia hospital treated a 30-year-old Maryland man suffering from persistent memory impairment.

Family members reported that the man had a history of heroin use, and had recently left a residential addiction treatment program.

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SOURCES: Marc Haut, Ph.D., chair, department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV; Tim Brennan, M.D., director, Addiction Institute, Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospitals, New York City; Jan. 30, 2018, Annals of Internal Medicine

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