Get to Know the BASICS of Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose

Updated: April 2021

What is Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose?

During an opioid overdose, both hypoxic and anoxic events are possible and may result in short-term or long-term injury to the brain. This type of acquired brain injury can have many consequences to the way a person functions in their daily life. Hypoxic and anoxic events can results in physical impairments and/or changes in behaviors. Although many people are surviving opioid overdoses, due in part to the live-saving drug Naloxone (or brand-name Narcan), they may now be living with a serious brain injury and not even know it.

A hypoxic brain injury occurs when oxygen flow is restricted to the brain, while an anoxic brain injury occurs when there is a complete lack of oxygen to the brain. This type of event can take place during cardiac arrest, drowning, or an opioid or other drug overdose.

What are the Basics of Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose?

  1. People who have had an opioid overdose may now be living with a brain injury.
  2. Brain injury caused by opioid overdose can make treatment and recovery difficult for some people.
  3. If a person has had one or more opioid overdoses, they should visit their doctor to be checked for brain injury.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose?

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Difficulty controlling emotions and behaviors
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty following through with assignments and recalling appointments
  • Lack of Coordination
  • Difficulty processing and retaining information


Why haven't I heard about Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose before?

Prior to the regular use of the drug Naloxone (or brand-name Narcan), death among people who overdosed from opioids was more common. Now, people who use opioids are able to survive an overdose and hopefully get the necessary treatment they need to recover. However, researchers are only recently finding that some people who have an opioid overdose may experience a hypoxic or anoxic event (an event where oxygen flow is somewhat restricted OR completely restricted to the brain). This type of event can result in mild to severe injury to the brain and require a modified course of treatment and recovery.

How can I learn more and help spread the word in my community?

You can learn more by visiting our Brain Injury from Opioid Overdose Resource Page. In addition, if you are interested in sharing this message within your community, please visit our Brain Injury and Opioid Overdose Toolkit Page, where you will find free, downloadable, media content that you can use within your networks.

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