Opioid Addicts Are Losing Their Memories and Doctors Don’t Know Why

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After two years of almost daily drug use, Max had the amnesia spell, and his life began to spiral out of control. Unable to remember what year it was or how to get around Boston, he dropped out of school. He had to quit the restaurant job after two dizzying shifts losing people’s orders and forgetting where his tables were.

“I remember feeling, just like, intense dread, because I didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “Because I thought I was going to be like that for the rest of my life. It made me act like a crazy person.”

The cluster of new cases in eastern Massachusetts, which began with Max’s case in 2012, appears to be growing in step with the nationwide opioid epidemic. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled in the last 15 years, driven largely by a rise in heroin use and, more recently, by fentanyl, an opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin. In Massachusetts, where overdose rates have doubled since 2012, 75% of people who died of an unintentional overdose last year had fentanyl in their system.

After overdosing, some opioid addicts are losing their memory and nobody really knows why. All doctors know is that each patient’s hippocampus — the area of the brain responsible for memory — becomes severely damaged. Are the opioids laced with an unknown toxin that targets the hippocampus? Does reduced respiration caused by opioid overdose damage the hippocampus? Azeen Ghorayshi reports at BuzzFeed.

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