Rapid Detox: How It Works, Effectiveness and Risks
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.
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 under anesthesia. 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?
During rapid detox, the person who is dependent on opioids will first be placed under general anesthesia, much like someone would be when undergoing surgery. Once the person undergoing rapid detox 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 is awakened from anesthesia.
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 cost of rapid detox will likely be comparable to the cost of a surgery.
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.
One study showed that three in 35 people who used rapid opiate detox had life-threatening adverse events. Going under anesthesia, especially while undergoing 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
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 an 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 to 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:
- Fever and chills
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- 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.
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.
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 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 to 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 will 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.
- 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 Associated with Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification — New York City, 2012.” September 13, 2013. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- Collins, Eric D.; Kleber, Herbert D.; et al. “Anesthesia-Assisted vs Buprenorphine- or Clonidine-Assisted Heroin Detoxification and Naltrexone Induction.” JAMA, August 24, 2005. Accessed June 2, 2022.
- Columbia University. “Study Finds Rapid Heroin Detoxification Procedure Under Anesthesia Does Not Work And 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.
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.