February 22, 2012
Ultra-rapid opiate detoxification is a relatively new procedure used to help those with serious opiate addictions. Drug detox can be dangerous and painful, both emotionally and physically. If an addict is attempting to detox in the privacy of his or her own home, or the addict is going through outpatient drug detox, the risk of relapse in the midst of the process is greatly increased for a variety of reasons.
People have regularly mistaken the detox process as drug treatment –which it is not. Drug detox serves one purpose only and that is to rid the body of the toxins left from drug abuse and dependence. Symptoms of withdrawal during opiate detox can be severe and can increase with the rapidity of the detox and the length of time one has been abusing the drug(s). The guiding principle behind ultra-rapid opiate detox is to speed the withdrawal process while the patient is under general anesthesia, thus the addict will not experience the pain associated with opiate withdrawal.
According to a University of Colorado essay on Ultra-rapid opiate detox, 25% of opiate abusers are “likely to die within 10 to 20 years of active abuse, with death from suicide, homicide, accidents and infectious diseases…Heroin users run the risk of being poisoned by impurities like strychnine and quinine…” (Source: http://ibg.colorado.edu/cadd/a_drug/essays/essay3.html)
Some practitioners hail this quick detox as a miracle, detractors argue differently. There are few studies which have evaluated the long term effects of going through ultra-rapid opiate detox. The argument surrounding the effectiveness of this procedure also does not address the research that has shown time and again that detox alone will not provide the addict with the knowledge or the tools to understand addiction, triggers, stressors, cravings and other factors that can lead one back to active addiction.
According to a National Institute of Drug Addiction’s clinical study, those patients who underwent ultra-rapid drug detox suffered the same withdrawal symptoms as those who went through traditional drug detox. Researchers from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University found “no compelling reason to use general anesthesia in the treatment of opiate dependence…The new findings corroborate those of three international studies.” There were three groups of patients all going through opiate withdrawal using: 1) Anesthesia assisted detox, 2) Buprenorphine assisted detox and 3) Clonidine assisted detox. Once awakened from anesthesia, patients reported experiencing the same symptoms of discomfort as those who were receiving the other methods of detox. Unrevealed medical conditions were determined to be the contributing factor in experiencing severe withdrawal as well.
Treatment outcomes among all three groups were similar. All patients from all three groups were offered treatment and relapse prevention for 12 weeks proceeding drug detox. Only 18% of patients remained in treatment for the full 12 weeks.
Despite the advertising that seems to be so alluring to an addict wishing to detox, the ultra-rapid detox process remains painful. According to the NIDA report, there are physical risks associated with the procedure. These include: fluid in the lungs, metabolic complications for diabetes, and a worsening of underlying bipolar disorders. Many patients eager for a quick fix to their addiction problem will hide medical histories that can have a profound impact upon the process. General anesthesia is always associated with additional risks beyond those health conditions resulting from excessive drug abuse, such as heart or respiratory failure.
The real work is done in treatment after the detox process has been completed. Without the treatment components, the likelihood of staying clean is extremely limited. To add a note of warning, taking another drug to substitute for an existing drug habit can backfire. Addictive behaviors can remain unchanged as long as methadone, Suboxone, or naltrexone is used on a regular basis.
An integrated comprehensive treatment program at a drug treatment center provides the greatest chances of building a strong recovery foundation. Within the context of treatment, detox is the first of many steps along the way. It takes time and commitment to halt the progression of addiction. It takes a willingness to change, to do the work, to avoid old behaviors, and the belief that one can stop the downward progression of the cycle of addiction. Research demonstrates that relapse is avoidable with the proper tools. Treatment works if you work it.
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