Recent experimental studies have investigated if individuals experience cognitive decline after opioid overdose. The findings suggest that opioid overdose may be associated with or contribute to cognitive decline. The study was published in the journal Drug and alcohol addiction.
The number of individuals experiencing opioid overdose has become a major public health concern. An estimated 9.2 million people in the United States misused opioids in 2021, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and more than 80,000 deaths were related to opioid overdoses. But up to 80% of those who overdose survive. Therefore, understanding the cognitive consequences of opioid use is important for developing effective interventions and treatment strategies.
The study included a sample of individuals, some who admitted to experiencing an opioid overdose in the past year and others who claimed to have never experienced an overdose. There were 35 subjects in the overeating group and 43 subjects in the never overeating group. All participants completed premorbid functioning tests to assess their pre-overdose cognitive abilities.
They were also administered the National Institutes of Health Toolbox Cognitive Battery (NIHTB-CB), which measures various cognitive domains such as attention, memory, and executive function. Results were compared with previous studies that included NIHTB-CB data in populations with alcohol use disorders and opioid use disorders.
The findings of this pilot study indicate that individuals who have experienced an opioid overdose show higher levels of cognitive impairment compared to controls. However, the overall level of impairment is not considered significant. The decrease in the overall cognitive ability score is about 7 points. This decline may not have a significant impact on the individual’s performance in real life. The average score in the study is about 100 (which is considered the average value), a drop of 7 points means that the individual will remain at the normal level, about 32 percent.
The extent of cognitive impairment appears to be influenced by a person’s ability to think before overdosing and the amount of time they have overdosed in the past. However, the researchers cautioned that these findings should be interpreted with caution due to the limitations of the study.
The findings of the study have possible implications for the development of interventions and treatment strategies for individuals with opioid use disorders. Understanding the cognitive effects of opioid use can help health care professionals tailor interventions to address cognitive impairment and improve overall treatment outcomes. In addition, the study highlights the importance of cognitive assessment in clinical practice to identify and address cognitive deficits in individuals with substance use disorders.
Several limitations should be considered when interpreting the results of this pilot study. First, the sample size was relatively small, which may limit the ability to generalize the findings. In addition, the study focused on individuals who experienced an opioid overdose and attended the emergency department, which may not represent the entire population of individuals with opioid use disorders. Furthermore, the study relied on self-reports of opioid use, which may introduce recall bias and inaccuracies in the data.
Another limitation is the use of the NIHTB-CB as a single measure of cognitive function. While this battery is widely used and validated, it may not fully capture the cognitive impairment associated with opioid use. Future studies could consider incorporating additional measures to provide a comprehensive assessment of cognitive function.
Despite these limitations, this pilot study provides valuable insight into the cognitive effects of opioid overdose. Findings suggest that individuals who experience an opioid overdose may have mild cognitive impairment, although the clinical significance of these impairments remains uncertain.
The study highlights the need for further research to better understand the long-term cognitive consequences of opioid use and overdose. Understanding the cognitive effects of opioid use can help health care professionals tailor interventions to address cognitive impairment and improve overall treatment outcomes. In addition, the study highlights the importance of cognitive assessment in clinical practice to identify and address cognitive deficits in individuals with substance use disorders.
The study, “A pilot study investigating cognitive impairment associated with opioid overdose,” was authored by James J. Mahoney, Erin L. Winstanley, Felipe Castillo, Rachel Luba, Jennifer Marton, Daniel M. Alschuler, Ying Liu, and Sandra D. Ma.
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