As the world progresses and technology advances, we believe the idea that faster is more effective. But is faster really better? In many instances of technological advancements, we appreciate the convenience of any opportunity to get a job done quicker. Data processing systems are faster, cars can travel at higher speeds, and messages can be sent around the world in a single instant, but are there some procedures that need to be taken at a slower rate? Are there shortcuts that are being taken at the cost of effectiveness? A detox method called rapid detox has been developed to expedite the detoxification process from opiates. Is faster better in this instance, or is rapid detox unsafe?
What Is Detox?
Medical detox is defined as a medical intervention where individuals are safely monitored through the process of withdrawal from a substance of abuse. The detoxification process is meant to rid a person’s body of the substance they are using. There are several methods of detox, including weaning or tapering off a substance slowly, medical detox, inpatient or outpatient detox treatment, and rapid detox.
Detox alone is not designed to be a full resolution for substance abuse or addiction, but it is a critical first step. It is important to understand that there are additional social, physical, behavioral, and psychological effects associated with substance abuse or addiction that also need attention.
What Is Rapid Detox?
Rapid detox is a detoxification procedure that starts by injecting a user with high doses of an opiate antagonist while the person is under general anesthesia or heavy sedation. Essentially, patients sleep through the process of withdrawal. The procedure takes place in an intensive care unit. Patients are required to be hospitalized for 1-2 days for the full treatment protocol.
In theory, by the end of the rapid detox treatment, patients are supposed to awaken no longer addicted to the abused substance after being unconscious for the duration of the withdrawal stage. Rapid detox does not provide additional treatments after withdrawal.
The rapid detox technique was created to lower the severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox and speed up the process, but many studies have disproven this idea. Even though rapid detox is a much quicker process than traditional detox methods, there are still withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced and other negative side effects that result. In addition, rapid detox has been shown to even be life-threatening in some instances.
Rapid detox is a costly treatment, and it is not covered by insurance. A person would need to cover expenses out of pocket.
The Appeal and the Reality of Rapid Detox
The thought of being sedated for the detoxification process may seem appealing to some people, particularly those who are anxious about the discomfort of withdrawal. Some users think that a “ripping off the bandage” approach is more tolerable. But just because the treatment is short, it doesn’t mean it is safe. Based on nine studies conducted on 1,109 participants, it was concluded that rapid detox withdrawal symptoms were more intense. These participants did experience withdrawal symptoms, contrary to the claim that rapid detox would allow patients to bypass such symptoms.
One study monitored the effects of rapid detox and discovered that users addicted to heroin suffered the same level of withdrawal symptoms as someone who used traditional methods of detoxification. Dr. Eric Collins at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University concluded there is not enough substantial evidence or reasoning to use general anesthesia when treating opiate dependency. He also notes that anesthesia can bring other potential risks to the forefront. Some of these risks include metabolic complications of diabetes, fluid buildup in the lungs, and amplified effects of underlying bipolar disorder. Patients with preexisting medical conditions can be at even greater risk for trauma. People who have heart disease, psychiatric disorders, insulin-dependent diabetes, hepatitis, AIDS, or prior pneumonias may experience negative effects from rapid detox.
Rapid detox may result in withdrawal symptoms associated with more traditional detox methods. These may include vomiting, nausea, severe pain, paranoia, infection, and addiction relapse. In addition, detox is not a comprehensive package, but only part of the treatment process. Without additional support or follow-up treatments, a high percentage of patients are bound to relapse.
Shelly Marshall, a chemical dependency specialist, noted several oversights in rapid detox treatment. While many medical institutions have researched rapid detox and support the treatment, the same institutions will benefit financially from performing the procedure, and they don’t always reflect the entire population of patients treated. For example, an institution may report a high percentage of successful cases of rapid detoxification from opiates, but neglect to report relapses to alcohol or other drugs. Neglecting these results give skewed perceptions to those contemplating rapid detox.
Also, all withdrawal symptoms are not experienced during the unconscious stage and some do continue once awake, which can also contribute to a user potentially relapsing. Withdrawal is also a severely stressful procedure on a person’s body that is already in a weakened or compromised state from addiction or abuse. Speeding up the withdrawal process and creating so much trauma in a short period of time may be too much for the body to handle. This may result in severe consequences or intolerable withdrawal symptoms.
Making the Safer and More Effective Choice
Patience during the recovery process is essential, and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to sustained recovery. Addiction doesn’t happen in just one day, and neither should the detoxification process. Studies show that a long-term recovery approach has a higher probability of success, and users are less likely to experience relapse.
Rapid detox has been proven unsafe and no more effective than other detox methods. If a user is ready to end their substance abuse or addiction, they should first speak with a doctor or medical professional to create a comprehensive recovery plan that includes detox and therapy. A complete treatment program, ideally in a specialized facility, will provide them with better chances for sustained success in recovery.