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Rapid Opioid Detox Programs

What’s the Deal With Rapid Detox?

Most people who struggle with the decision to go into a residential drug treatment program wish there were a quick and pain-free method for detoxing from drugs. Internet blogs and advertising lately have been full of promises of painless rapid drug detox for people addicted to alcohol or opiates. In a nutshell, it works like this: You go to a clinic. They put you to sleep with anesthesia and inject you with naltrexone and other drugs. You wake up hours later detoxed from the drug you were using. Sounds easy, right?

Don’t be so quick to put your faith in that magic bullet. There are drawbacks to this procedure and it is also not quite the shining star in the firmament of recovery methods as its promoters would have you believe.

After all, if detox were easy, nobody would be addicted. Ads for these clinics claim that 100 percent of rapid detox patients succeed.  That’s a misleading statistic. It’s kind of like saying that all blonds have hair. Yes, people wake up technically detoxed, but will they stay that way?

Many people put off going into rehab because they know it’s going to be a long, uncomfortable process. There’s a lot more to recovery than just stopping your drug. Whether or not you start with the spiritual concept of the 12 Steps, you have a long, hard row to hoe when you start rehab. You need to learn how to deal with triggers and urges. You need to understand what your drug of choice does to you physiologically. You need to accept responsibility for your addiction and deal with the various relationships you have, not only the primary relationship with your drug but also with the people in your life.

Rapid detox costs vary from $10,000 to $25,000. For someone desperate to quit using without going through the painful steps of withdrawal and recovery, that’s a tempting deal. Many people have to commit a crime to get their hands on that amount of money. For others, it’s not such a big deal. But here’s why it offers much less promise than participation in a residential drug rehab program.

  • The patient doesn’t have quite the pain-free experience promised by the ads. After several hours under anesthesia, the patient awakens to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, aches, and similar withdrawal woes. The only difference is that the symptoms—not the cause of them—are treated.
  • The medical literature has reported several deaths related to rapid opioid detox programs. One addict in London died after lack of care in the hospital where he detoxed; the death was ruled a “misadventure.”  Two New Jersey physicians were fined but were not prosecuted for their patients’ deaths. In one study, about one percent of the patients died from anesthesia complications.
  • Those who complete the program have no idea how to resist inevitable urges to use drugs. They often become addicted to some other substance or habit.
  • Eighty percent of rapid detox patients relapse after treatment.

The Department of Health and Human Services requires three components to any effective drug treatment program: The patient must be evaluated for the drugs he’s using as well as any co-occurring mental health or biomedical disorders. The patient must be stabilized during a guided detox process, with or without assistive drugs, but hopefully with the support of the loved ones in his life. The patient must understand the recovery process, including the psychological aspects of addiction. A residential drug treatment program accomplishes all of those things. Rapid opioid detox, in a word (or two) does not. 

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