Two serious types of brain injury caused by opioids are:
- Hypoxic brain damage (partial lack of oxygen)
- Anoxic brain damage (total lack of oxygen)
Opioids slow breathing and reduce heart rate. During an opioid overdose, breathing and heart rate may be slowed so severely that it deprives the brain of oxygen. After only five minutes of oxygen deprivation, brain cells begin to die, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which can cause permanent brain damage.
These injuries can have profound consequences for patients and cause significant impairment, including cognitive, emotional, sensory, and mobility disabilities, and even death.
Hypoxia & Anoxia from Opioid Overdose
Hypoxic brain injury refers to injury caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Some of the symptoms of a hypoxic brain injury include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired coordination
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment
- Vegetative state
- Brain death
The prognosis of hypoxic brain injuries depends on several factors, including how long the brain was deprived of oxygen.
Anoxia refers to a complete lack of oxygen. The symptoms of anoxia are similar to hypoxia and can include coma, vegetative state, brain death, and death.
Long-Term Effects of Opioid-Related Brain Injury
The degree of brain injury depends on the amount of time the person was without oxygen. The longer someone is in a hypoxic or anoxic state, the greater the risk of complications and death.
In many cases, patients make a full recovery and regain all their normal functions. The symptoms of hypoxia and anoxia may persist while the patient is recovering from the injury. Some patients may suffer long-term complications including impaired movement, twitching, and even seizures.
In more severe cases, patients may fall into a prolonged vegetative state. He or she may require assistance breathing, eating, and performing other life functions. Some patients continue to breathe on their own and go through a sleep-wake cycle but are otherwise not alert and do not respond to stimuli in their environment. Patients may experience pneumonia, blood clots, malnutrition, and other complications related to being in a vegetative state.
Some patients experience brain death or pass away due to brain damage caused by an opioid overdose.
Treating Hypoxia & Anoxia from Opioid Overdose
Hypoxia and anoxia are emergency conditions requiring immediate care. EMTs and doctors will attempt to restore oxygen supply to the brain to reduce the risk of brain damage. Patients may require mechanical breathing assistance.
In the case of opioid overdose, EMTs or doctors may administer naloxone to reverse the overdose and restore normal respiration. Naloxone can be delivered via injection, autoinjection, or nasal spray.
Legal Issues for Preventable Opioid Overdose
In some cases, a doctor, facility, or another party may be liable for a patient’s opioid overdose, especially due to negligent prescription or prescription management. If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury caused by an opioid overdose, consult Newsome | Melton about your case. Call 888-808-5977.