Opioid withdrawal usually isn’t deadly, but it can be extremely unpleasant. It’s often compared to the flu; it shares some of the same symptoms. Your whole body reacts to the flu in the same way it reacts to opioid withdrawal. Opioids affect your body’s pain-management system. When you stop using, your brain chemistry will be thrown out of balance, causing withdrawal until your body is able to reset your brain chemistry. Opioid withdrawal symptoms last for about a week to ten days, and it can be extremely unpleasant. In fact, the fear and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms is a significant barrier to sobriety for many people. Many people resolve to stop using opioids hit a wall of excruciating physical and mental symptoms and relapse back into active addiction. However, opioid withdrawal symptoms are treatable.
Medical detox helps people get through withdrawal in a safe setting, and medical professionals can help manage uncomfortable symptoms. It’s still a difficult process, but it’s safer for people that need medical help. There are a wide variety of medicinal options that are used to ease the discomfort of withdrawal, including tapering other opioids like buprenorphine, anesthetics, ketamine, and even cannabis. However, a treatment that started to gain popularity in the 1990s seeks to help people go through detox faster, under medical supervision. This method is called rapid detox.
Rapid detox involves a medical procedure that’s said to reduce the detox period from a week to a few hours. During the procedure, you are given a general anesthetic to sedate you. Then you’re given naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist. Opioids bind to opioid receptors in your body to achieve their effects. When you take an opioid, the neurotransmitter will bind to your receptors until your body is able to eliminate them. Depending on the opioid, this can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days. Naloxone also binds to opioid receptors, but instead of activating them, it stops them and blocks opioids from binding to them. It can also kick opioids off their receptors to deactivate them. The drug can expedite the withdrawal process, overcoming the need to wait for your body to process the drug.
Naloxone kicks opioids off of receptors and helps rid your system of opioids more quickly. However, if an opioid has a longer half-life than naloxone, it needs to be administered multiple times to make sure the opioid doesn’t become effective again. But another flaw in rapid detox is that the withdrawal process doesn’t just last until the opioid wears off. Your body needs time to adjust your brain chemistry after having developed a chemical dependency. You could go through rapid detox, return home, and still experience withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fever for the next few days.
Another criticism of rapid detox is that it has caused adverse complications for some people. In a few cases, complications proved fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed several cases in which anesthesia-assisted rapid opiate detoxification caused serious complications in 2012. However, research indicates that rapid detox is safe and effective for many people, but like regular detox, it needs to come with a personalized, long-term treatment plan to avoid relapse. If you’ve tried and failed to detox using other methods, rapid detox might be an option. It’s essential to weigh all of your options with your doctor.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
CDC. (2013, September 27). Deaths and Severe Adverse Events Associated with Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification – New York City, 2012. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6238a1.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, April 4). Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/opioid-overdose-reversal-naloxone-narcan-evzio
RxList. (2019, November 11). Suboxone (Buprenorphine HCl and naloxone HCl): Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interactions, Warning. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/suboxone-drug.htm