An opioid overdose can cause brain damage when the overdose results in a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. This type of brain damage is known as a toxic brain injury and can take two main forms: anoxic and hypoxic.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has confirmed the relationship between opioid overdose and depressed respiration. Since opioids and opiates are depressants, they cause people who take them to experience reduced breathing rates and slower heart rates than normal. When an overdose occurs, these effects are intensified to even more dangerous levels.
Toxic Brain Injuries After an Opioid Overdose
Toxic brain injuries occur when the brain receives little or no oxygen for a prolonged period of time. When an opioid overdose leads to a loss of consciousness, the victim’s breathing may become shallow, irregular, slow, or nonexistent. This reduces the level of oxygen being supplied to the body, which can damage many different organs and lead to permanent brain damage.
The severity of the oxygen deprivation determines the category of toxic brain injury that the victim experiences:
- Anoxic brain injury – Occurs when the brain receives no oxygen at all
- Hypoxic brain injury – Occurs when the brain receives too little oxygen, either through irregular breathing or through regular, shallow breathing
Anoxic brain injuries are the most severe type of toxic brain injury, as a complete lack of oxygen can cause brain cells to begin dying in as little as four minutes. Permanent, irreversible brain death can set in within five minutes.
While a diminished oxygen supply remains available to the brain during a hypoxic brain injury, the restricted flow can still impair or kill the victim’s brain cells. This can cause a variety of neurological and psychological symptoms, including many that resemble dementia.
Signs of Brain Damage After an Opioid Overdose
If you or a loved one exhibit any of the following symptoms during or after an opioid overdose, seek medical treatment for brain damage immediately:
- Loss of consciousness
- Disorientation or general lack of balance
- Slurred speech or difficulty forming complete sentences and phrases
- Confusion, forgetfulness, or mood swings
- Facial drooping or motor impairment
- Headaches, seizures, or blurred vision
These are not the only signs that brain damage may have occurred. It is important to contact emergency medical personnel right away if you or a loved one are experiencing any abnormal sensations or difficulties following an opioid overdose.
Recovering from Brain Damage After an Opioid Overdose
It is possible to make a full or partial recovery from brain damage after an opioid overdose, but many factors contribute to the expected difficulty and extent of recovery possible. The longer the brain remained without oxygen, the less likely a full recovery becomes. Similarly, the longer the victim remains unconscious, the more likely he or she is to suffer from brain death.
Treatments for Brain Damage After an Opioid Overdose
Although the efficacy of these efforts varies according to the specific nature of your injury, most toxic brain injuries receive the following treatment:
- Normalizing oxygen supply— The first and most vital step is to restore the normal flow of oxygen to the brain. This ensures the body has an ample oxygen supply and allows healthcare providers to move beyond the immediate problem of oxygen deprivation to begin treatment to mitigate brain damage.
- Reducing core body temperature— Cooling the patient’s body can help reduce the potential for further damage during the treatment process.
- Controlling swelling— Inflammation and swelling can complicate recovery efforts or cause additional brain damage. Steroids can help reduce swelling around the brain and minimize these negative impacts.
- Administering barbiturates— By reducing the brain’s activity levels, it may be possible to limit the scope of the damage the brain suffers during recovery.
Rehabilitation and Therapy for Brain Damage After an Opioid Overdose
Once the victim has regained consciousness, a thorough rehabilitation plan can help them regain as much functionality as possible. This includes a full spectrum of therapies—speech therapy, recreational therapy, physical therapy, and more. Used in conjunction with one another, these therapies can help someone suffering from overdose-related brain damage to build up to a full or partial recovery.
Keep in mind that the rehabilitation process is a slow, careful journey. It can take months or even years to restore even partial functionality to a person whose opioid overdose caused brain damage.
Call Today to Learn More About How We May Be Able to Help
If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury after an opioid overdose, we may be able to help. The brain injury lawyers at Newsome | Melton have more than 20 years of experience working with personal injury cases. Let us protect your rights. Call (866) 611-BASC today for a free consultation, and to learn more about the options that may be available to you.