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How Does Opioid Overdose Affect the Individual?

How Does Opioid Overdose Affect the Individual?


Opioids are sometimes prescribed to treat pain. Sadly, many people battling one mental health disorder or the other often resort to opioids to "feel good."

But opioid gets easily addicting and abused, and its misuse is deadly. Some peddlers even lace the substance with other hard drugs and pass it around the street to unsuspecting individuals desiring an escape from their pain and trauma. And things get even worse for the individual when they have an opioid overdose.


Can opioid overdose cause death?

Opioid overdose can be quite fatal. Opioids were involved in 49,860 overdose deaths in 2019 (70.6% of all drug overdose deaths). Even when the patient gets medical intervention as early as possible, sometimes death from an opioid overdose is just inevitable.

However, it doesn't always lead to death. Some individuals are lucky to escape death after an opioid overdose.

But does it end with whether or not the patient dies? Or does opioid overdose affect the brain even when the patient doesn't lose their life?

This is the one question that led Erin Winstanley and James Mahoney to research the brain after an opioid overdose.


The research

Winstanley and Mahoney -- researchers with the West Virginia University School of Medicine and Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute -- reviewed 79 published studies on the brain of individuals after nonfatal opioid overdoses.

Although there were limitations with virtually all the studies, the researchers could see brain abnormalities and neurocognitive impairments associated with opioid overdose.

The primary focus should indeed be on saving the lives of people who get an overdose. But it's also important that we understand what happens to them as it can impact their life later on. And without a doubt, people abuse drugs every day.

But more research is needed for one to be certain about the actual problems the patient will later face. That's because all the studies that have been done on nonfatal opioid overdose were riddled with inconsistencies, bias, and limitations.

Very few of the studies reported toxicology results confirming the overdose, some failed to measure the participants' cognitive/intellectual functioning prior to the overdose, and others didn't specify if the participants had used any other drugs apart from opioids.

Even the overdose itself is a variable. For instance, how long the patient remained in that oxygen-deprived state and how early they received treatment can affect the research results. In short, there are still many variables unaccounted for.

But in all, one thing stands: an opioid overdose has the potential to change how the brain functions. Consequently, the chances can negatively influence the person's memory, attention, and several other cognitive functions.


Preventing unintentional opioid overdose

It's true that one may not intentionally get overdosed. Sometimes, it's a mistake or a combination of other factors.

Perhaps you're on an opioid prescription as a pain management strategy. Whatever the case, here are ways to prevent an overdose:

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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