Doctors are working toward solving a modern medical mystery involving the link between prescription painkillers and sudden amnesia. The count began at four and is now up to 14 patients affected, and doctors are searching for others. It seems the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory and emotional response is missing on both sides in these patients.


Bilateral hippocampal ischemia is the condition in which the hippocampus is permanently missing from the brain. While more research is needed, they believe this valuable part of the brain was permanently damaged after prolonged use of opioids. All except for one of the patients had previously been an opioid user. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn of the side effects of prolonged opioid use.


Patients who have suffered illness or have undergone surgery are typically prescribed opioids as a way to manage their level of pain. Unfortunately, many become addicted. In 2014, nearly 2 million Americans were dependent on prescription opioid use. Neurologist Dr. Jed Barash found what he believes is a connection between the use of opioids and the sudden amnesia these patients are suffering from.


The patients studied suffered from Anterograde Amnesia. This condition causes them to lack the ability to make new memories and unable to recall the recent past. This gives the brain the ability to process new information as usual but without the ability to store and reuse it. The patients almost instantly forgets the information just learned.


These new amnesia cases have doctors thinking that prescription drugs are to blame.

It was discovered that patients who suffer from Anterograde Amnesia normally lose their declarative memory responsible for remembering facts. They may not remember meeting someone they just met yesterday, but can usually remember skills learned such as how to ride a bike. The phenomenon has doctors eager to study more cases, if they exist, to try to connect all the dots.   


The patients are all between the ages of 22 and 52 and were hospitalized in Massachusetts between October 2012 and November 2016. The case has doctors so mystified that Massachusetts Department of Health sent out an alert statewide for more physicians to look for similar cases in their neurology patients.


For these patients and any others that may be discovered, there is always hope. Doctors will continue their quest to find more information through these patients who will lend their brains to science for further study. In the meantime, these patients are expected to live as normal a life as possible despite their unique circumstances.


What would you do if you had trouble making new memories? How would you cope? Let’s discuss here or on Twitter: @lcarterwriter.