Dangers and Risks of Rapid Detox for Opioid Addiction

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

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Last Updated - 11/20/2023

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Updated 11/20/2023

Rapid detox from opioids is a newer treatment that is generally considered unsafe when compared to regular opioid detox programs. This method of treatment is also called ultra-rapid opiate detox or anesthesia-assisted rapid opioid detox. Although it is designed to make detox faster and more comfortable, research shows that rapid detox isn’t more effective than other methods of detox and it’s also less safe.

What Is Rapid Detox?

Rapid detox is a method of detoxing from opioids. In this method of detox, the person who is dependent on opioids is placed under anesthesia and is generally unaware of what is happening during the procedure. While under anesthesia, the person detoxing is given opioid reversal medicine to rapidly induce detox. The goal is to complete the worst of withdrawal symptoms while under anesthesia, reducing the negative effects that a person will experience.

Rapid detox should not be confused with medically supervised detox, also called medically assisted detox or medical detox. This form of detox is when someone undergoes opioid withdrawal normally but is given medicines during the process to reduce or eliminate the withdrawal symptoms.

How Does Rapid Detox Work?

The idea behind rapid detox is that the effects of opioid withdrawal are accelerated and intensified, but they occur while you are unconscious. The purpose behind rapid detox is to allow people to complete withdrawal from opioids while experiencing few to no symptoms. While this would be ideal in theory, it generally comes with significantly increased health risks and requires a couple of days in a hospital’s intensive care unit.

The effectiveness of rapid detox is generally touted by those who offer it, and they often emphasize the reduced symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, long-term success following withdrawal is not any better than other opioid detox methods and may even be worse. Additionally, this increased comfort comes at a higher risk of injury or death. Reputable medical procedures generally prioritize safety over comfort, not the other way around.

Cost of Rapid Detox

Rapid detox is generally quite expensive when compared to other forms of detox. On the low end, rapid detox may cost around $15,000 when offered by newer or less-recognized providers. Well-established providers may charge significantly more for rapid detox. It will generally be difficult to find a rapid detox program that costs less than five figures.

Adding to the cost of rapid detox is the fact that many major health insurance companies will not pay for it. Because it is considered more of an “experimental” treatment and creates avoidable health risks, it is not typically in the interests of insurance companies to pay for this riskier form of detox.

Rapid Detox Safety Concerns

There are several serious health concerns surrounding the use of rapid detox. During this procedure, it is necessary to go under general anesthesia. Because you do not breathe on your own while under anesthesia, this typically involves placing a tube down your trachea and using a machine called a ventilator to breathe for you. Using a ventilator increases the risk of infection and damage to your lungs. Additionally, there are several other risks associated with going under general anesthesia.

During rapid detox, the body is also placed under additional stress, as the symptoms of detox must be intensified to be sped up. While the person detoxing is generally unconscious, their body still experiences this additional stress and must cope with it in addition to the effects of anesthesia.

A study highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that out of 75 people to undergo rapid detox, two died and five had serious health effects. This equates to a more than 2% fatality rate and a 9% rate of serious complications. Given that medically assisted detox almost never results in death or serious complications, many health care professionals advocate against using rapid detox.

Relapse and Overdose Risk After Rapid Detox

When rapid opioid detox is used alone, it has a very high rate of relapse. This could be partly due to the fact that there is little incentive to avoid having to do detox again if no negative symptoms were experienced.

More important, however, is the fact that detox itself does little to actually help you avoid relapsing later on. Detox is the first step to stopping opioid use, but rehab is necessary to learn strategies for overcoming cravings and changing the behaviors that lead to addiction over the long term.

Relapsing after detox can be dangerous, as tolerance eventually disappears after detox is over. This means that if someone relapses and takes the dose they were taking when they stopped using opioids, it could result in an overdose. Overdose is common when someone relapses because they do not realize how much tolerance they had built up and that the tolerance is gone.

Withdrawal Symptoms After Rapid Detox

Rapid detox is designed to prevent people from experiencing the worst of the opioid withdrawal process. However, people are often surprised to learn that withdrawal symptoms should still be expected after rapid detox.

Rapid detox can help someone avoid the worst withdrawal symptoms, but symptoms like irritability, yawning, goosebumps and other unpleasant effects may still occur. Rapid detox may help people avoid physical symptoms, but psychological symptoms like cravings will still have to be addressed.

Medical Detox vs. Rapid Detox

Medical detox is very different from rapid detox and is typically considered by the medical community to be the gold standard form of detox treatment. There are different approaches to medical detox, but it generally involves using medicines to support someone who is detoxing from opioids.

Medical detox can involve using medications like methadone or buprenorphine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It can also involve treating withdrawal symptoms as they occur until they are over. The goal of medical detox is to make the detox process as safe and comfortable as possible.

Find a Medical Detox Center Near You

Medical detox can make your opioid detox experience more comfortable and provide an easier transition into rehab treatment. A typical medical detox program lasts about a week to a week and a half, while rehabilitation lasts for a longer period ranging from weeks to months. Rehab helps you to build on the progress you’ve made during detox and maintain the sobriety that you’ve achieved.

At The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake, we provide daily counseling as well as meetings with a physician to ensure that your treatments are working well and are effective for your needs. We also accept most insurances to make our program as accessible as possible.

Detox may seem daunting, but we are here to help you through the process. Contact us today to learn how we can help you safely detox from opioids and begin a healthier, drug-free life in recovery.

Recovery Village at Palmer Lake recommends against rapid detox and provides medical supervision and medications to assist with detox at our Colorado rehab facility.  Contact us for information about our programs and methods for comprehensive substance abuse treatment from detox through follow-up care.

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