In a medical opiate detox, you receive medications and nursing care to reduce the severity of the withdrawal symptoms that you experience. In most cases, medical opiate detox occurs on an inpatient basis under supervision. This increases the safety of the process (although opiate detox is rarely dangerous – simply very uncomfortable) and increases your likelihood of making it through the intense initial phase of detox pains without relapsing.

In some cases, you will briefly transfer onto lower doses of longer acting opiate medications, like methadone or buprenorphine, to reduce the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Other medications used in a medical opiate detox can include:

  • Clonidine – a medication that can reduce the anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, cramping and sweats of the withdrawal period. This is a commonly used medication for opiate withdrawals
  • Medications for diarrhea and vomiting

The medical detox period will end when the withdrawal pains subside substantially in intensity. The duration of a medical detox will vary depending on the type of opiate that was abused, your age and general level of health and the length/intensity of the opiate abuse. Longer acting medications like methadone result in a more protracted withdrawal period than shorter acting drugs like Vicodin or Oxycontin. A medical detox generally takes between one and two weeks to complete.

People who complete a medical detox program only and do not follow detox with any addiction treatment and/or medications are at extreme risk to relapse back to opiate use. Medical opiate detox is not considered addiction treatment, merely something that gets you ready and able to participate in addiction treatment.

*Warning – Most people who OD on opiates do so when relapsing after detoxification. Once through the withdrawal process your opiate tolerance (ability to handle large quantities of these drugs) diminishes greatly. Once fully detoxed, taking a dosage that would previously get you pleasantly high might now be enough to kill! 1

Ultra Rapid Opiate Detox

The premise behind an ultra rapid opiate detox is that you progress through an accelerated and intensified period of withdrawal pains while under anesthesia and numb to the agony you’d otherwise be experiencing.

While this obviously sounds very attractive, many experts express caution over the procedure, arguing the risks and costs may outweigh the benefits (if any).

Criticisms of ultra rapid opiate detox include:

  • There is a risk of vomiting while under anesthesia, and a corresponding risk of death. The American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM) warns people to undergo such a procedure only in hospital facilities equipped to perform emergency intubations.
  • Research studies do not show that people who undergo ultra rapid opiate detox are less likely to relapse
  • Research studies do show that people who have underwent an ultra rapid opiate detox procedure continue to feel moderate to severe withdrawal pains for some time following the procedure
  • The cost of an ultra rapid procedure is far greater than for other treatment options2

Ultra rapid detox may be a reasonable option for a person that is unwilling to use methadone or Suboxone and unwilling to proceed through a conventional medical detox program, so long as they receive the procedure in a facility equipped for life saving interventions and so long as they are well informed of the risks and benefits of the procedure and the risks and benefits of other options.

To sum it up – ultra rapid detox doesn’t always alleviate the pains of withdrawal greatly, it costs more than comparable treatments, it doesn’t offer a better long term prognosis and compared to alternative treatments, it is far more dangerous.

Suboxone or Methadone

Suboxone and methadone are medications that:

  1. Take away drug cravings
  2. Take away feelings of opiate withdrawal
  3. Don’t get you high, so you can function normally one again

People use these medications for varying lengths of time (longer is generally better), get stabilized financially, in living arrangements and with personal relationships – and when they are feeling good and ready, start to taper down off the meds.

Although some people reject the idea of opiate substitution programs using methadone or Suboxone, thinking they are just trading one addiction for another, studies show that people using methadone and Suboxone are far less likely to relapse than people who detox using other methods, far less likely to commit crimes and far more likely to get health and avoid accidental overdose.

Put simply, people who want the very best chance at long term abstinence from the abuse of opiates should strongly consider either Suboxone or methadone, coupled with ongoing addiction treatment.

Read more:

Suboxone – the basic facts you need to know

Methadone – the basic facts you need to know

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Page last updated Jul 01, 2011

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