Survivors of fentanyl overdoses often suffer devastating brain damage
While many lives have been lost to the fentanyl crisis, those who are fortunate enough to survive an overdose often suffer serious brain damage with little chance of making a full recovery.
At St. Paul’s Hospital, a patient named John survived a fentanyl overdose but his life is likely over.
“At this point in time that’s our assessment,” critical care doctor Delbert Dorscheid said. “He suffered an injury that is severe and we do not know what his recovery will be.”
Dorscheid said about 90 per cent of fentanyl overdose patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) have suffered brain trauma they will not recover from even though many received the life-saving antidote naloxone, also known as Narcan.
“When the paramedics come in and they do the rescue breathing and whether they can get enough Narcan into them or not, it doesn’t matter,” Dorscheid said. “They can restart the heart in a lot of these individuals but the brain has already suffered a catastrophic injury from the length of time — sometimes just minutes — that the brain has gone without adequate blood flow.”
Dorscheid said the overdose crisis is hitting every demographic in British Columbia. He’s seen patients as young as 18 and as old as 60 suffer severe brain damage following an overdose.
According to reports, it costs about $5,000 a day to care for one brain injury patient in the ICU.
“It’s a lot more problematic,” Dorscheid said. “These individuals stay within our acute care hospital system, so they stay in environments where they expect to get better and they really won’t or don’t. And we have to, in the long term, manage how we’re going to help these people.”
It’s unclear if John, a young man in his 30s, will make it back home to his job, family and friends.
“Some of these people, it’s tragic. They end up in long-term institutions. To be honest, a lot of them will not have a meaningful life. To use an old term, they’ll be in a vegetative state.”
– With files from Rumina Daya
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