A recent pilot study investigated if individuals experience cognitive decline after an opioid overdose. The findings indicate that opioid overdose may be associated with or contribute to reduced cognitive ability. The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
The number of individuals experiencing opioid overdose has become a significant 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 there were more than 80,000 deaths related to opioid overdoses. But up to 80% of those who overdose survive. Therefore, understanding the cognitive consequences of opioid use is crucial for developing effective interventions and treatment strategies.
The study included a sample of individuals, some of whom admitted to experiencing opioid overdoses in the last year and others who claimed to have never experienced an overdose. There were 35 subjects in the overdose group and 43 in the never-overdosed group. All participants completed the Test of Premorbid Functioning to assess their pre-overdose intellectual capacities.
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. The results were compared to prior studies that included NIHTB-CB data in populations with alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder.
The findings of this pilot study indicated that individuals who had experienced an opioid overdose showed some level of cognitive impairment compared to controls. However, the overall level of impairment was not considered significant. The reduction in overall cognitive ability scores was approximately 7 points. This reduction may not have a significant impact on a person’s functioning in real life. The average score in the study was around 100 (which is considered average), a 7-point reduction would mean the person would still fall within the normal range, around the 32nd percentile.
The extent of cognitive impairment seemed to be influenced by a person’s thinking abilities before the overdose and the number of times they had overdosed in the past. However, the researchers cautioned that these findings should be interpreted carefully because of the limitations of the study.
The study’s findings have potential implications for developing interventions and treatment strategies for individuals with opioid use disorder. Understanding the cognitive effects of opioid use can help healthcare professionals tailor interventions to address cognitive impairments and improve overall treatment outcomes. Additionally, the study highlights the importance of cognitive assessments 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. Firstly, the sample size was relatively small, which may limit the generalizability of the findings. Additionally, the study focused on individuals who had experienced an opioid overdose and were admitted to an emergency department, which may not represent the entire population of individuals with opioid use disorder. Moreover, the study relied on self-reporting of opioid use, which may introduce recall bias and inaccuracies in the data.
Another limitation is using the NIHTB-CB as the sole measure of cognitive function. While this battery is widely used and validated, it may not capture the full range of cognitive impairments associated with opioid use. Future studies could consider incorporating additional measures to provide a more comprehensive assessment of cognitive function.
Despite these limitations, this pilot study provides valuable insights into the cognitive effects of opioid overdose. The findings suggest that individuals who have experienced an opioid overdose may exhibit mild cognitive impairment, although the clinical significance of these impairments remains uncertain.
The study underscores the need for further research to understand better the long-term cognitive consequences of opioid use and overdose. Understanding the cognitive effects of opioid use can help healthcare professionals tailor interventions to address cognitive impairments and improve overall treatment outcomes. Additionally, the study highlights the importance of cognitive assessments 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. Comer.