According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug addiction treatment in the United States requires two basic pillars: detox with medically trained supervisors and rehabilitation focused on changing behaviors with group and individual counseling.
While it is important that both detox and rehabilitation have many approaches to create individual treatment plans, evidence-based treatment starts with ending the body’s physical dependence on intoxicating substances and then continues with counseling focused on managing cravings and changing behaviors.
Detox is an important first step in treatment because it begins the process of showing the individual that they can function without intoxicating drugs or alcohol. Many people may need help with medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to taper off the substance of abuse because the experience of withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or, in rare cases, life-threatening. People who struggle with opioid abuse in particular need MAT and supervision during the detox process. While withdrawing from opioid drugs does not lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, many people who attempt to quit these drugs without help relapse, which increases the risk of overdose.
Since the process of detox can take a long time, it can be expensive. Many people want fast results. They want to get on with their lives, to spend less money on treatment if possible, and to move into the next stage of treatment. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, rapid detox (sometimes also called ultra-rapid detox) promised to end the body’s dependence on drugs, mostly opioids, with only the upfront costs and a few hours to one day of commitment.
While it appeared expensive, it was not when compared side by side with other detox programs. Rapid detox clinics often reported higher rates of success, with more than half their patients allegedly staying away from drugs for a full year. Unfortunately, these programs proved to be dangerous and largely unsuccessful.
The process of rapid detox involves administering anesthesia so that the person falls asleep for several hours or a full day. During that time, naloxone and other medications that combat active intoxicants like opioids, along with saline and nutrients, are administered to the individual. The anesthesia reportedly allows drug antagonists to flush substances out of the body. When the person wakes up, they are no longer “addicted” to the substance because their body is clear of the chemical or its metabolites.
Rapid detox barely addresses the body’s dependence on any intoxicating substance, and it does nothing to manage the compulsive behaviors associated with addiction. It is not a safe procedure to undergo. People from all over the U.S. have died from heart attacks or organ failure associated with this process.
Additionally, rapid detox facilities often fail to take into account other issues their patients may experience, including psychiatric problems from depression to schizophrenia; other drugs, both prescription and illicit, that are being abused; and underlying chronic health issues caused or exacerbated by substance abuse. Without further treatment, the risk of relapse is high.
This procedure is not recommended, and it is not likely to be covered by insurance. The risks are too great, and the outcomes are not predictable or guaranteed. Insurance companies and doctors alike advise against rapid detox.
Both rapid detox and standard, safe detox range in price. Specific prices depend on location, whether the process is an inpatient or outpatient treatment, and what additional medications are required during the process, such as methadone or buprenorphine.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), standard drug treatment following evidence-based guidelines significantly reduces the cost burden on the overall population. Every dollar invested in long-lasting detox and rehabilitation programs yields $4 to $7 in savings.
Addiction is a complex, chronic illness that involves physical dependence on drugs like opioids, but it has more to do with the compulsive behaviors around drugs than just being dependent on these substances. People who take prescription opioid painkillers can develop dependence without an addiction, and they need supervision from their doctor to safely taper off these substances.
Even if rapid detox were safe, the companies that tout it as a “cure” for addiction are simply wrong. Detoxing from a substance may make you feel like you have achieved success, but it does not end the problem of addiction. Detox is merely the first step in a long process of managing a chronic condition. Evidence-based treatment can sometimes take a long time, but it is safer and more effective than attempts at quick fixes.
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