Opioid drugs include the street drug heroin as well as prescription painkillers, like Vicodin, OxyContin, methadone, and Percocet, that block pain sensations, induce calm, and give users a “high” when abused. These drugs are highly addictive.

With chronic use, the brain and body develop a physical and psychological dependency to the drugs, and you may experience drug cravings and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are removed from the bloodstream.

Detox involves purging of opioids or other drugs from your system in a safe and controlled manner. Often, medications are used in order to manage drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms during medically assisted detox. This form of detox is performed in a specialized treatment facility with 24-hour medical care available.

What is Rapid Detox?

Rapid detox is an inpatient procedure, usually done in a hospital or clinic setting, during which you are put under general anesthesia and the opioids are flushed out of your system while you are asleep, generally with the use of naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Detox can be accomplished very quickly this way, commonly in four days, and withdrawal symptoms may be largely avoided; however, the treatment method is highly controversial compared to other methods.

Rapid detox is expensive, between $3,000 and $17,000, Anesthesiology News reports. It is also considered potentially dangerous as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published that in a study of 75 patients undergoing rapid detox in a New York clinic, seven had adverse reactions and two died. Several of these negative reactions may have been caused by underlying medical or mental health issues that may not have been properly disclosed before treatment was administered. The introduction of naloxone during rapid detox was associated with negative and severe adverse reactions more than 8 percent of the time in a research setting, the CDC further reported.

Issues With Rapid Detox

Addiction also takes a toll on your body. Many who are dependent on opioids are not healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and the stress on the body that rapid detox can cause.

Potential health risks and side effects of rapid detox include:

  • Pulmonary distress and fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Psychiatric complications and worsening of mental illness symptoms
  • Elevated blood sugar and metabolic issues
  • Complications with anesthesia medications
  • Death

Upon waking from rapid detox, patients generally report feeling exhausted, and many require a few additional days in bed before feeling up to resuming normal activity levels. Withdrawal symptoms may even persist for days or weeks after rapid detox, which may lead to a return to drug-using behaviors, or relapse, in order to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. An article in the highly esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that rapid detox methods were not an effective treatment method for opioid dependency and that rapid detox is an unproven protocol that does not improve treatment retention or abstinence rates over other treatment and detox care plans.

Mental Health Complications of Rapid Detox

One of the potential health risks of rapid detox is the possibility of exacerbating mental health disorder symptoms.

Drug abuse and mental illness go hand in hand often, as around 50 percent of drug abusers suffer from mental illness. In addition, a third of those with any mental health disorder and half of those with a serious mental disorder also abuse substances, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Drug abuse may be an attempt to temporarily self-medicate undiagnosed mental health symptoms. Opioids produce a feeling of calm and may offer temporary relief from some of the more difficult mental health symptoms, like depression, anxiety, and panic. In the long run, substance abuse and addiction only make matters worse, as drug abuse actually complicates the treatment of mental illness and may interfere or interact negatively with required medications.

Often, someone undergoing addiction treatment will uncover a mental health disorder, of which they were previously unaware. Additionally, people with a history of mental illness may be dishonest in order to receive treatment since those with a mental illness are not eligible for rapid detox. Rapid detox can lead to dangerous complications, such as psychosis, when a mental health disorder is present.

Rapid Detox Is Not a Cure

Beyond the potential health complications associated with rapid detox is the fact that detox alone is not considered a successful addiction treatment. Addiction is a complex brain disease, and regular drug abuse makes chemical changes in the brain that take time to reverse. While detox can remove drugs from your body, it does not help you repair the circuitry in your brain that is responsible for your emotional regulation.

Instead, therapies and counseling sessions are effective ways to retrain your emotional responses and behavioral patterns, and to teach you healthier methods to cope with stress and regulate your moods. This can help you reach a stable psychological balance without drugs. A study found that those who received formal substance abuse treatment were more likely to avoid relapse and maintain abstinence for a period of three years than those who didn’t receive such treatment.

Rapid detox is generally considered ineffective and potentially unsafe. Instead, a combination of medications and psychotherapy is more commonly accepted as a proven treatment method.

Alternatives to Rapid Detox

There are methods and treatments available to manage withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings in a safer and potentially more effective manner through evidence-based treatment models.

The duration and severity of withdrawal depends on your level of dependency, drug and method of abuse, and some physiological factors. Medications such as buprenorphine products are long-acting with a ceiling effect to discourage abuse. These medications can be used during medically assisted detox over a period of time to effectively wean you off opioids without the potential shock to your system that rapid detox may induce. Treatment is highly variable and each person may respond differently, making certain methods more effective for some than others.

Highly trained and professional medical and mental health experts at The Recovery Village will work with you or your loved one to determine the treatment model that is best suited to your individual needs. Care begins with a comprehensive assessment, and your treatment plan will be reevaluated regularly to ensure the highest possible rate of success. Call today to learn more.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.