Last Updated: September 15, 2023
Although a rapid detox is faster than traditional detox methods, it’s associated with many risks, including seizures and even death.
Rapid detox is a controversial way of detoxing from opioids, using an artificial way of speeding up the detox process while someone is under anesthesia. Theoretically, the process will be more comfortable than traditional detox; however, it carries risks that typically make it dangerous compared to other accepted detox methods.
What Is Rapid Detox?
Rapid detox is typically used for opioid detox and involves two key parts. The first is going under anesthesia so that detox effects will occur while someone is in a medically-induced coma. The second part is using medication to speed up the detox process. For opioid detox, this will typically be Narcan (naloxone).
Rapid detox is designed to make detox shorter; however, a byproduct of this is that it is typically more intense. Anesthesia sedates the person undergoing rapid detox so that the extreme unpleasantness of fast, intense detox will occur while they are sedated.
Risks of Rapid Opiate Detox
While rapid detox sounds good in theory, it’s associated with many risks. Because of these risks, most medical professionals recommend not using it as a detox method. The risks are induced by an artificially accelerated detox that places far more stress on the body than it would typically experience during detox. Coupled with the potential problems of anesthesia, this can unnecessarily increase the risk of serious medical conditions, including heart attacks, seizures and even death.
Rapid detox is generally considered an experimental treatment and has not gained FDA approval, mostly because of the risks connected with it when compared to alternatives. In addition to medical risks, rapid detox involves considerable expense, given the use of anesthesia. The experimental nature of rapid detox means it is not generally covered under insurance, making it more expensive and likely to require out-of-pocket payment.
Someone considering using rapid opioid detox should always consult an independent healthcare professional and a healthcare professional proposing rapid detox.
How Does Rapid Detox Work?
Rapid detox involves being put under general anesthesia. A tube is placed in the person’s lungs via their windpipe, and a machine will breathe for them while under anesthesia. Once they are under general anesthesia, a medication is given to reverse the effects of the opioids they are using rapidly. This results in detox occurring quickly and intensely but also places high stress and strain on the body.
Using Anesthesia as a Sedation Method
General anesthesia is the only sedation method that can really be used for rapid detox. This means rapid detox must be done in a hospital or specialized facility. Other methods of sedation will not keep someone comfortable while they are undergoing detox and may increase the dangers from the intensity of the process.
Is Rapid Detox Safe?
Rapid detox is not safe. Research available through the CDC followed 75 people who underwent rapid detox. Seven of this small sample experienced “serious adverse events” that resulted in the need for hospital care. Two people died from the complications that ensued. From this sample alone, the risk of death associated with rapid detox was over 2%, much higher than the risk of standard opioid withdrawal, which is close to 0%.
Someone dependent on opioids should consider medical detox, in which your body detoxes from opioids naturally. In medical detox, healthcare professionals provide support by treating symptoms as they occur and promoting your comfort during withdrawal.
Opioid Dependence and Detoxification
Opioid detox becomes necessary when you become dependent on opioids. This happens when you use opioids consistently for prolonged periods. Your brain recognizes the constant presence of opioids in your bloodstream and adjusts its receptors accordingly. This makes it necessary for you to have opioids for your brain to function normally. When you are dependent on opioids and stop using them, you will experience withdrawal symptoms as the brain’s receptors are not balanced correctly.
Detox describes the process of your body eliminating opioids from its bloodstream and your brain recalibrating its receptors to adjust for the absence of opioids. During this process, withdrawal symptoms occur until your brain readjusts.
Aftercare and Support
Stopping opioids is only helpful if you can maintain it over time. One huge weakness of rapid detox is that it focuses solely on getting you off opioids, not keeping you off them. Medical detox, on the other hand, often transitions into aftercare and support.
Aftercare can involve counseling and medications designed to help you understand why you misused opioids in the first place. Aftercare supports you to counter cravings and avoid relapsing. It can also connect you with resources and support groups that further your recovery.
Preventing Opiate Relapse
Preventing opiate relapse requires developing strategies and supports to tackle underlying issues and cravings effectively and often play a vital role in helping you achieve long-term success. These often involve:
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous
- The involvement of family members or loved ones
Different Types of Detox Programs
Multiple types of detox programs are available. It is important that anyone needing detox find the type of detox program best suited to meet their medical needs while allowing them the maximum flexibility to live their life as normal.
Different types of detox can include:
- Medical in-patient detox: In this type of program, you check into a medical center and receive 24/7 medical supervision and care during the entire medical detox process.
- Medical out-patient detox: Out-patient medical detox involves detoxing at home but having regular checkups by a healthcare professional. This option can offer more flexibility while still providing the benefits of a medical professional.
- Rapid detox: Rapid detox is not generally recommended due to the high risks of death or impairment and due to its complexity. Those willing to undergo the risks of this experimental treatment often do so because of the quick fix that it offers.
- Home detox: Those likely to have a mild detox may be permitted by their physician to detox at home without medical supervision. This will generally only be a good option for those not particularly dependent on opioids.
The risks and benefits of a particular form of detox differ based on the individual. It is important to consult with a physician before detoxing and avoid deciding by yourself. Trained doctors often have a better perspective and understanding of each option’s risks and benefits and how they relate to your unique situation.
Achieving Sobriety Through Rapid Detox
While rapid detox is not considered a safe detox method, it can help people quickly achieve sobriety. However, the problem is that it does not help you maintain sobriety once you reach it. Most reputable medical detox programs provide a smooth transition into rehab and aftercare after completing medical detox, while rapid detox programs generally do not.
Rapid Detox vs. Traditional Detox Methods
When comparing rapid detox to traditional methods, there are several important factors to consider:
- Safety: Rapid detox carries a relatively high risk of death or hospitalization, while traditional detox methods do not.
- Speed: Rapid detox methods are much faster than traditional detox methods, even though this speed comes with increased risks.
- Long-term effectiveness: While rapid detox may be faster than traditional detox, no evidence supports the idea that it is more effective.
- Comfort: Rapid detox can be more comfortable than traditional detox because you are in a medical coma; however, it places more stress on the body than traditional detox.
- Long-term support: Rapid detox does not typically provide strong long-term support, focusing more on the detox process than the long-term recovery plan.
- Cost: Rapid detox requires specialized medical facilities, costing much more than traditional detox.
Rapid detox can be expensive and is debated by medical professionals regarding its efficacy. If you are considering detoxing from opioids, you should always consult medical professionals before deciding on your preferred detox method.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the potential risks or side effects of rapid detox?
Because rapid detox is experimental and not widely used, the potential risks are not fully understood. However, they include heart problems, liver problems, kidney damage, worsening depression, infections and pregnancy complications.
How does rapid detox compare to other methods of detoxification?
Rapid detox may be faster and more comfortable than other detox methods, but it carries a higher risk of serious complications or death. Because the risks of rapid detox are so severe, most healthcare professionals recommend choosing traditional detox over the dangers accompanying this faster form of detox.
Can I do a rapid detox at home?
While some forms of detox may be feasible at home, rapid detox is not. Rapid detox involves being placed into a medical coma, making complex medical monitoring necessary. Rapid detox’s medical complexity and dangers make it impossible at home.
Bartter, T & Gooberman, L L. “Rapid opiate detoxification.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. November 1996. Accessed June 21, 2023.
Legarda, Juan J. “Ultra-rapid opiate detoxification under anaesthesia (UROD).” The Lancet Journal. May 16, 1998. Accessed June 21, 2023.
American Society of Anesthesiologists. “General Anesthesia.” 2023. Accessed June 21, 2023.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Deaths and Severe Adverse Events Associated with Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Opioid Detoxification — New York City, 2012.” September 27, 2013. Accessed June 21, 2023.
Shah, Mansi & Huecker, Martin R. “Opioid Withdrawal.” StatPearls. April 29, 2023. Accessed June 21, 2023.
Singh, J. & Basu, Debasish. “Ultra-Rapid Opioid Detoxification: Current Status and Controversies.” Journal of Postgraduate Medicine. 2004. Accessed June 21, 2023.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.