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Rapid Drug Detox: Six Reasons Why It Doesn't Live Up To The Hype
For nearly two decades, rapid opiate detox programs have been touted in the media and on the Internet as “the big new detox thing”, and the promotional claims have continued. But after 20 years, this often inordinately expensive and frequently dangerous procedure is still not mainstream, because it has real skeletons in its closet — rapid detox has killed people who might have survived a modern medical drug detox.
Rapid opiate detox refers to various approaches that use “opiate antagonists” — drugs that rapidly block the “opiate receptors” in the brain, swiftly bringing about the withdrawal symptoms expected for the substance being treated, and for the severity of the patient’s dependence.
Since “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms can be severe, the procedure is performed under general anesthesia lasting several hours. The theory trumpeted by rapid detox practitioners is that upon awakening, patients are “refreshed and free of withdrawal symptoms, and no longer crave drugs.” In fact, recovery can take days, and some patients have continued to experience withdrawal symptoms weeks later, and others have complained of nausea for months.
Unfortunately, the claims for an safe and instant cure don’t agree with reality:
- 1. General anesthesia carries considerable inherent risks itself. Anesthesia is directly responsible for thousands of unexpected deaths every year, and there’s no reason to expect it to be any less risky during rapid detox, and reasons for it to be even more so.
- 2. Even though the patient is anesthetized, the body suffers enormous stresses as it experiences severe and traumatic withdrawal symptoms. One doctor commented that a patient had to be strapped to the table because their body was “flopping around like a fish out of water.” The effects of such stress cannot be predicted, and could have longer-term health consequences. Physical recovery can take days, weeks or months.
- 3. Many patients complain of continuing withdrawal symptoms long after their rapid detox. They may have withdrawn from opiates, but are often given one or more medications to help deal with the stress and pain of the procedure, which is basically continuing a dependence on drugs, as well as risking interactions with other drugs if the patient relapses.
- 4. The drugs used for rapid detox themselves carry certain risks, so much so that they require additional medical training to legally prescribe them. The training has been called less than perfect by some critics, for several reasons:
- a. If a patient has unknown or unreported medical conditions or allergies, a rapid drug detox drug, or the anesthesia, or both together, could be devastating. The training, skill and experience of the doctors is vitally important. For example, seven deaths were reported in New Jersey because patients had underlying heart conditions, or took cocaine some time after the treatment. Several deaths were reported in Michigan following rapid detox treatment, resulting in the suspension of the physicians’ licenses by the state’s Attorney General.
- b. A National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) report warned of complications with the procedure that are "unacceptable" for an unproven treatment method. The report went on to say that patients may be at risk of choking or cardiac complications when given large quantities of detox drugs in combination with anesthesia.
- c. No two people are the same, and no two addictions are the same — everyone’s unique DNA, metabolism, level of health, addiction history and habits mean that any drug detox — not just rapid detox — is a unique situation. None of this is provided in the additional training.
- d. Rapid detox — and indeed many drug detox programs in general — usually fail to take these critical factors into account, cheating patients of the chance for the complete care they should receive.
- 5. People who complete rapid drug detox are statistically more likely to overdose if they relapse — and the number that relapse is high. The drugs used for rapid detox seem to set a person up to be highly sensitive to opiates, so a former opiate addict who relapses may think he or she can consume the amount they used in the past, which now could be fatal.
- 6. Finally, rapid drug detox does absolutely nothing to rehabilitate an addict’s life. As it said in the NIDA report mentioned earlier, "detoxification is not a cure for opiate addiction." Drug detox is only the gateway to full drug rehab which addresses the underlying reasons for any addiction.
After two decades, too many people have been misled into accepting the idea that rapid drug detox means the end of addiction. Unfortunately, many rapid drug detox completions wind up back in drug detox again, and most take advantage of a traditional medical drug detox program offering personalized care and a far greater level of safety.
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