Rapid Detox: How it Works, Effectiveness and Risks

Last Updated: November 20, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

People may do a rapid detox in order to quickly get through the withdrawal process. However, accelerating opioid withdrawal symptoms in this way can be dangerous.

Rapid detox is a newer method of detoxing from opioids and is intended to offer a quick, comfortable way to detox. However, it is a somewhat controversial method that is likely more dangerous than other approaches commonly used in the opioid detox process.

Rapid Detox Quick Overview

  • Rapid opioid detox involves detoxing from opioids under anesthesia.
  • Rapid detox is potentially fatal and medically risky when compared to typical opioid detox.
  • Rapid detox is generally more expensive than ordinary detox and isn’t any more effective.
  • Medically assisted detox is a more natural and safer way of detoxing from opioids.

What Is Rapid Opiate Detox?

A rapid opiate detox, also known as anesthesia-assisted rapid opiate detoxification, involves rapidly detoxing from opioids while under anesthesia. This procedure accelerates opioid withdrawal symptoms, making them occur while the person is unconscious. It is meant to help prevent people from experiencing the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox.

A rapid opiate detox requires advanced medical care and often involves administering several medications to manage physical symptoms. Because this process accelerates withdrawal symptoms, it also makes symptoms more intense than they would be naturally.

How Does Rapid Detox Work?

Rapid detox can seem confusing to some, as it is more medically complex and has things that can go wrong than regular detox. There are typically three key stages to rapid detox.

Pre-evaluation Stage

Prior to rapid detox, the person undergoing opioid detox will be evaluated. Because this type of detox requires being placed in a medically induced coma, the pre-evaluation stage is important to identify any health concerns that may arise during anesthesia. A thorough pre-evaluation is essential for anticipating problems that are likely to occur and creating response plans if they do develop. 

Detoxification Stage

During rapid detox, the person who is dependent on opioids will first be placed under general anesthesia, much like when undergoing surgery. Once the person is unconscious, the opioid-reversing drug Narcan (naloxone) is given over several hours to instantly reverse the effects of opioids and flush them from the person’s system.

Severe opioid withdrawal symptoms will occur during the process and will need to be treated, even though the person experiencing these symptoms is unconscious. The goal of rapid detox is for the worst of opioid withdrawal symptoms to be over by the time the person awakens from anesthesia.

Follow-up Stage

Unfortunately, many rapid detox programs are focused primarily on detox, not on long-term addiction recovery. Follow-up will be performed, but this will typically focus on ensuring there are no serious after-effects from the anesthesia. Some rapid detox programs may help you transition into rehab to help maintain your sobriety; however, this is not particularly common.

Rapid Detox vs. Traditional Detox

Rapid detox is quicker than traditional detox, and most of the detox symptoms occur while the person undergoing detox is under anesthesia. While this makes rapid detox more comfortable than traditional detox, it also is more dangerous. Being placed in a medically induced coma creates vulnerability to many dangerous complications. This occurs simultaneously with an artificially accelerated detox that places more strain on the body than traditional detox would. 

One big difference between rapid and traditional detox is that traditional detox is typically more focused on long-term addiction recovery, while rapid detox is often more focused on helping you get off opioids in the short term. Because of this, those who undergo rapid detox can be more likely to relapse.

Is Rapid Detox Safe?

Rapid detox is not considered safe when the minor benefits it provides are compared to the high degree of risk that it involves. The CDC has warned that rapid detox is associated with a higher rate of death than is expected during opioid detox, making it more dangerous than more commonly used forms of opioid detox.

Physical Complications of Rapid Detox

One study showed that three in 35 people who used rapid opiate detox had life-threatening adverse events. Going under anesthesia, especially while experiencing the stress of withdrawal, affects the heart and other systems of the body in ways that can be potentially fatal. For this reason, a study out of Columbia University recommends against using rapid detox.

Mental Health Complications of Rapid Detox

Beyond the potential for physical complications, rapid detox also fails to address important mental health considerations. Opioid addiction requires ongoing follow-up care after withdrawal to ensure that relapse does not occur. Additionally, mental health problems often occur alongside opioid addiction. Focusing solely on reducing withdrawal symptoms means failing to treat potential mental health problems that can contribute to opioid abuse and addiction.

Withdrawal Symptoms After Rapid Detox

The entire purpose of rapid detox is to avoid the worst of opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, it really only helps people avoid the peak of these symptoms. Opioid withdrawal takes about a week for most people, and even when accelerated using rapid detox, these symptoms will still be present for a few days.

Some of the opioid withdrawal symptoms that may still be experienced after a rapid detox include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Sweatiness
  • Abdominal cramps

While these symptoms may not be as severe when using rapid detox, they will still likely be present after the initial rapid detox is complete.

The Latest Medical Insights on Rapid Detox

Rapid detox is generally considered to be unsafe, ineffective and, at best, experimental. The New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports “does not support ultra-rapid opiate detoxification” due to its lack of benefits and poor safety profile. 

Because rapid detox is generally not advised by the medical community, there has not been much research on it in recent years. There are, however, still occasional medical studies on complications caused by rapid detox treatment. A 2022 article published in CPC Emergency Medicine, for example, examined the case of someone who had brain damage and bleeding in their brain caused by rapid opioid detox.

Is Rapid Detox Effective?

Rapid detox is still used today by some because of how it reduces the discomfort of opioid withdrawal, but there is much more to be considered beyond improved comfort. Rapid detox can be effective at reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms that occur during detox, but it has risks and does not improve long-term recovery from addiction. 

Effectiveness ultimately depends on what the end goal is. If the sole focus is on reducing withdrawal symptoms, regardless of the risk, then rapid detox would be considered effective. However, because its risks are greater than its benefits and it does not improve the long-term outcomes of addiction, most authorities do not consider rapid detox to be effective. 

How Much Does Rapid Detox Cost?

Like many complicated medical procedures, the cost of rapid detox varies widely based on who provides it. In general, however, rapid detox is quite expensive. Because the procedure involves going under anesthesia, it must be done in a hospital with complex monitoring equipment available. Additionally, a high degree of expertise is necessary, adding to the overall cost. The price of rapid detox will likely be comparable to that of a surgery.

Alternatives to Rapid Detox

When considering alternatives to rapid detox, it is important to keep in mind that rapid detox itself is really the alternative to well-established methods of detox. Most opioid detoxes will be natural, as they typically allow the body to rid itself of opioids using its normal biological process.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment during a medical detox is considered the gold standard for opioid detox. In a medical detox, the body is allowed to naturally rid itself of opioids, and medications are given during detox to improve the symptoms that occur. Medicines like buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone can be used to help treat opioid use disorders and improve the chances of lasting sobriety.

Modern addiction recovery facilities, including The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, will offer medication-assisted opioid detox treatments and avoid providing rapid detox. At our facility, we only use safe, proven methods of medical detox that have been shown to be effective in the long term. Medication-assisted treatment promotes the most comfortable opioid withdrawal experience possible while avoiding the potential dangers of rapid detox.

If you or someone you love is planning to detox from opioids, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is here for you. We can help make your detox as safe and comfortable as possible while also leading you toward a healthier, opioid-free life in recovery. Contact us today to learn how you can get started on your journey to find lasting freedom from opioid addiction.

Sources

Bartter, T., Gooberman,  L.L. “Rapid opiate detoxification.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, November 1996. Accessed June 2, 2022.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Deaths and Severe Adverse Events Associa[…] New York City, 2012.” September 13, 2013. Accessed June 2, 2022.

Collins, Eric D.; Kleber, Herbert D.; et al. “Anesthesia-Assisted vs Buprenorphine- or[…]Naltrexone Induction.” JAMA, August 24, 2005. Accessed June 2, 2022.

Columbia University. “Study Finds Rapid Heroin Detoxification […] Can Result In Death.” August 23, 2005. Accessed June 2, 2022.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” MedlinePlus, May 10, 2020. Accessed June 2, 2022.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).” May 10, 2022. Accessed June 2, 2022.

NY Office of Addiction Services and Supports. “Ultra-rapid Opiate Detox.” September 13, 2012. Accessed July 21, 2023.

Sobin, Michael F., et al. “Managing Subarachnoid Hemorrhage Precipitated by Anesthesia-assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification: A Case Report.” Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine, January 6, 2022. Accessed July 21, 2023.

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