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Episode 39: Study Finds Increased Risk of Opioid Misuse For TBI Survivors

An illuminating study has found individuals suffering from traumatic brain injuries were 52 percent more likely to use opioids following their injury and are at a 65 percent greater risk then the general population in the mis-use of opioid medication.

Described as the “perfect storm”, Brandeis University researchers in an article published in a special topical edition of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, the official journal of the Brain Injury Association of America, on opioids and traumatic brain injury, this month, attributed the unique vulnerability of brain injury survivors to pain and substance abuse as an explanation for this alarming finding.

Individuals suffering from a TBI face more chronic pain including headaches and the lack appropriate treatment options.

Headache is one of the most widely reported symptoms following all classifications of brain injury and according to the Centers for Disease Control, with 40 to 50 percent of all TBI survivors report suffering from long term headaches. For those suffering mild TBI or the post concussive syndrome, headaches have been reported in 75 percent of these individuals.

Chronic pain has been found in over 51 percent of all brain injury survivors from associated physical injuries that accompany the traumatic event including orthopedic injuries such as whiplash or bone fractures.

These individuals may resort to opioid use because of a lack of other treatment options

TBI survivors also are more prone to substance abuse due to damage sustained to the temporal lobe of the brain which may impair judgment and impulse control and for those with a previous history of substance abuse, the risk of misuse following a traumatic brain injury the risk is even greater

Besides substance abuse and associated issues, these individuals are also at a danger of overdose which can lead to respiratory depression, a lack of oxygen and further cognitive impairment caused by hypoxia, deprivation of oxygen to brain tissue. Opioid use in general can exacerbate cognitive and behavioral impairments that exist in this population.

So, what does all this mean?

It means medical professionals need to screen patients for a lifetime history of traumatic brain injury before prescribing opioid treatments due to their increased vulnerability to misuse and dependence.

Individuals and their family members need to know the increased risk of substance abuse, and even suicide, caused by using opioids following any traumatic brain injury.

More research needs to be conducted in this important area in both the civilian and military population. Both the judicial and medical systems need to be aware of the association between opioid misuse and traumatic brain injury so that these individuals receive appropriate care and rehabilitation.

Audio version

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