When someone is ready to quit using heroin, withdrawal symptoms are often something that gives them pause.
When people undergo rapid detox, they are told they will go under general anesthesia, and upon waking, they will be detoxed completely.
Rapid detox can seem like a miracle — a method to get through withdrawal quickly, without any pain or discomfort. As the saying goes, it is too good to be true, then it is. Rapid heroin detox comes with a bevy of risks, including death
Once someone decides to stop using heroin, they can expect withdrawal symptoms for an average of five to seven days. Some symptoms may linger for up to several months.
Lingering symptoms are associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which some people develop. This is a prolonged period of withdrawal that can last for months or even a full year after a person quits using heroin.
MedlinePlus relays the following are possible heroin withdrawal symptoms:
In an effort to prevent people from having to experience these effects, some facilities offer rapid heroin detox.
Most reputable facilities offer more traditional medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This treatment is not rapid.
When medications are used as part of MAT, it is a long-term approach to detox. Generally, individuals take the medication for weeks or months until they are stable in recovery. At that point, they are slowly tapered off the medication.
While the exact sedatives used may differ among facilities, the purpose of rapid detox is to sedate someone while also giving them naltrexone.
As a type of narcotic antagonist, naltrexone induces withdrawal. The person receives sedative drugs, so they do not experience the full effects of withdrawal. In some cases, general anesthesia is used instead of sedatives.
During rapid detox, health care professionals monitor patients. The patient is under anesthesia or sedation for approximately four to six hours. This gives naltrexone time to work.
The person usually remains in the facility overnight for monitoring after the sedatives or anesthesia are discontinued.
Research does not favor rapid heroin detox.
One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that people who received rapid detox had a higher rate of adverse events. Their relapse rate did not decrease, and they experienced more discomfort after detox. This was compared to people who went through detox using traditional medications, including clonidine and buprenorphine.
More research was published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The researchers concluded that the benefits were uncertain, and rapid detox should be regarded as experimental regarding the risks.
Researcher Dr. Eric Collins performed a study with his colleagues. His research concluded that there is no good reason to treat opioid addiction with anesthesia. He stated that his research determined that rapid detox from heroin does not make withdrawal any easier.
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Since rapid heroin detox is not recommended by health care or addiction professionals, people who are looking to achieve sobriety should consider other detox methods. In most cases, detox and long-term treatment for heroin use disorder include a combination of medication and behavioral therapies.
During the detoxification stage, certain medicines may help to reduce cravings and make the withdrawal symptoms easier to cope with, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
One medication that is FDA-approved to ease heroin withdrawal symptoms is lofexidine, a non-opioid medication.
Other medications that might be used to treat heroin use addiction include:
These medications may be combined with different behavioral therapies to treat heroin addiction.
Total recovery from heroin addiction is possible. The disease can be effectively managed for life with proper treatment and support.
While rapid heroin detox can be tempting, it isn’t a recommended detox approach. Instead, choose evidence-based methods that are supported by research.
(July 2018) Understanding Drug Withdrawal Symptoms. Verywell Health. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-withdrawal-how-long-does-it-last-63036
Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal. MedlinePlus. Retrieved February 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
(November 1996) Rapid Opiate Detoxification. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8911587
(August 2005) Anesthesia-Assisted vs Buprenorphine or Clonidine-Assisted Heroin Detoxification and Naltrexone Induction. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved February 2019 from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/201451
(2001) Opioid Antagonists Under Sedation or Anesthesia for Opioid Withdrawal. Cochrane Database Systematic Review. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=11279746
Study Finds Withdrawal No Easier with Ultrarapid Opiate Detox. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2006/10/study-finds-withdrawal-no-easier-ultrarapid-opiate-detox
Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-treatments-heroin-use-disorder
(January 2018) Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies