Hospital highlights lesser known cause of head injury - drugs

From: Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability
Published: Fri Mar 11 2005

Embargoed till 14 March 2005: Brain Injury Awareness Week runs from 14 – 20 March. This year the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability is highlighting one of the lesser-known causes of brain injury – drug abuse. Although there is little statistical information on the incidence of brain injury as a result of drug use, a snapshot of the hospital’s own patients indicate that this is a hidden cause.

Chloë Hayward, Head of Communications said: "There have been studies looking at the link, but as drugs may be the secondary cause of injury it is a difficult area to investigate. Many patients admitted to the Royal Hospital have been involved in traffic accidents or falls, or perhaps suffered a stroke or lack of oxygen to the brain because of a heart attack. We discovered that for a number of these patients, drug use had been a factor in the injury."

One such patient is Gurcharn. He had a massive stroke after taking cocaine, which left him severely disabled. Royal Hospital staff helped him learn to communicate and walk again. He made excellent progress with his rehabilitation and began to focus on going home. He said: "I knew taking drugs was bad news but never thought anything would happen to me. I’ve made a good recovery since my stroke and have had the chance to rebuild my life. I hope my experience makes others think about the choices they're making, because they might not be as lucky as me."

Gurcharn’s is not an isolated incident. Amy was just 17 years old and looking forward to the birth of her first baby when she suffered severe brain damage after being injected with a heroin overdose and losing consciousness. Her baby was delivered prematurely but sadly only survived for a few days. After emerging from coma Amy came to the Royal Hospital for months of assessments to establish her levels of awareness. She was diagnosed as being in vegetative state, which meant she had no awareness of her surroundings. The effects of the drug caused Amy’s brain to be starved of oxygen for a prolonged period. Sometimes the brain can recover but for Amy and her family the results have been devastating and she remains severely disabled.

A study carried out in Dublin, published in 1991, found that of over 200 patients seen in A&E for a head injury during a 10-week period, 18% tested positive for drugs and a further 9% tested positive for drugs and alcohol. The study also found that those who tested positive for drugs were also more likely to have a serious head injury, requiring a longer stay in hospital.

Drugs are just one of the many causes of severe brain injury. Whatever the reason for their injury or illness the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability provides rehabilitation and care for severely disabled people, focusing on giving back their independence. It is not part of the NHS and relies on donations to continue its work. For more information visit

Ref: R06/05
Photographs are available.

Brain Injury Awareness Week runs from 14 – 20 March 2004. It is an annual campaign run by Headway the brain injury charity.

To arrange an interview with Gurcharn, further information about the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability or Brain Injury Awareness Week please contact Yashoda Sutton on 020 8785 7844 or email:

· Study on the role of drugs and alcohol in patients with head injury by MJ Boyle, L Vella & E Moloney; published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Vol. 84 October 1991.

· The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability is a national medical charity based in Putney, southwest London. The hospital specialises in assessing and rehabilitating adults with traumatic brain injuries incurred through accidents or strokes. It also provides both treatment and long-term care for people with severe and complex neurological conditions, including Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. The hospital’s focus is on restoring independence, using technology to help people communicate and control their surroundings, and supporting families by creating a positive community.

Visit the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability website at
Company: Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability
Contact Name: Yashoda Sutton
Contact Email:
Contact Phone: 020 8785 7844

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