There are substantial differences between rapid detox and traditional methods of medication-assisted detox. Understanding heroin and the need for assistance in the detoxification of drugs is the first step in choosing the right treatment program.
Heroin is a highly addictive substance that begins as opium – which is a narcotic drug derived from the opium poppy plant. The opium is refined to make morphine, which is then refined again to make heroin. Once heroin hits the brain, it turns back into morphine and attaches to opioid receptors in the brain. These are the receptors that can decrease the body’s perception of pain and increase the level of dopamine, elevating mood, and giving users a sense of euphoria or “high”.
Heroin users have several methods of use from which to choose, including injecting heroin, causing the drug to bypass being metabolized and head straight through the blood stream to the brain. Many users choose this method because it is known to be the fastest way to get “high”. Other choices include inhaling heroin through smoking it or ingesting heroin by snorting it.
Heroin is the world’s single most addictive drug – users regularly develop dependence and tolerance to it, meaning they need to use larger amounts of the drug to fuel to same effect. Because dependence can be (and typically is) both psychological and physical, many individuals participate in a supervised heroin detoxification program when trying to stop using.
Safe Detoxification Requires Medical Supervision
Without detoxification assistance, it can be difficult to stop the long-term use of heroin. Many users are fearful of the withdrawal symptoms, which can start to appear as soon as six hours after a person last used heroin. Heroin withdrawal is a medical condition that needs to be attended to by medical professionals for safety reasons, as well as to narrow the likelihood of relapse.
The physical and mental pain associated with heroin withdrawal can be a trigger for heroin relapse. Withdrawal symptoms can include cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and spasms, insomnia, depression, and deep bone pain. Heroin use suppresses the brain (and any pain, emotional and physical). When a person stops using heroin, the brain is re-activated and the physical and emotional pains can return. When this happens, many choose to continue their use of heroin rather than face the pain that may reappear.
Assisted detox programs, whether rapid or traditional, use medications to address the symptoms being felt by the patient as heroin leaves the body. While medication-assisted treatments can reduce the symptoms of withdrawal, it is important to avoid medications that are habit forming.
Rapid detox programs and most traditional detox programs use a variety of pharmacotherapy medicines to aid in the process of withdrawal. However, they are used in quite different ways.
Traditional detox programs use the ongoing treatment of methadone or suboxone to help with cravings, as well as benzodiazepines to treat other symptoms. Unfortunately, all three medicines offer similar effects to heroin. They can be habit forming and a person using these medicines will experience withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing use. Essentially, by using medicines such as methadone or suboxone, a person can become independent from heroin but dependent on a buprenorphine based medicine.
Rapid detox programs use medicines such as vivitrol and naltrexone, both non-habit forming, to help with withdrawal symptoms. These medicines prevent the patient from feeling “high” or euphoric, as they would with methadone or suboxone. Because the patient is monitored around the clock, other withdrawal symptoms can be treated based on the advice of a physician and specialists trained in the field of rapid detox. With the use of vivitrol and naltrexone, the patient’s withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be greatly reduced.
Traditional Medication-Assisted Detox
Traditional detox programs admit the patient to a detox facility where they will spend between one and two weeks, depending on the level of withdrawal symptoms.
Most traditional detox programs start with an evaluation or diagnostic period to determine the exact needs of the patient as well as establish the treatment plan. The patient then enters the detoxification phase where they are administered buprenorphine type medicines. In a traditional detox program, patients are usually paired with one or more individuals in a room. Having a roommate is necessary for such programs, due to the steady increase in people seeking treatment.
Once detox is complete, patients are transferred to the rehabilitation wing of the facility. Patients will begin a routine of attending individual and group therapies until they are discharged. It is here they will learn coping skills to help them in recovery. Upon discharge patients are given a treatment plan to follow that can include outpatient group or individual therapy.
It’s important to note that few patients leave detox with a prescription for methadone or suboxone. They are typically weaned off these drugs before being discharged. It is up to the patient to regain access to these medications once they leave a treatment program.
The rapid detox process begins with an extensive pre-evaluation to determine the needs of the patient. The medical practitioners and specialists evaluate bloodwork, physical assessments, and psychological exams to create a treatment plan.
Rapid detox programs offer private rooms in an intensive care unit of a hospital. This means patients have immediate access to both doctors and nurses on a 24-hour basis. Monitors are used to measure the vital statistics of each patient, providing medical staff with constant feedback on the patient’s health. Because rapid detox takes place in accredited hospitals, every patient has access to a range of specialists, including neurologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, and psychiatrists.
During the detox phase of treatment, anesthesia is used to assist the patient. This process prevents the patient from feeling many of the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin.
Rapid detox can last a week, often less than a week. After detox, the patient enters the rehabilitation phase, usually at a nearby retreat, in a private room. The rapid detox retreat allows the patient to experience alternative therapies such as massage, yoga, meditation and acupuncture. In addition, counselors and medical staff are available to address any needs and continue the medication protocol.
Upon release from treatment, patients work with the staff to create an aftercare plan of counseling, alternative therapies and the continuation of the medications that were prescribed while in treatment.
While both detoxification methods have their own set of pros and cons, it seems rapid heroin detox is not only more convenient, but also offers the patient a better chance for long-term abstinence, with the use of non-habit forming medications. Rapid detox provides an individualized treatment experience and a time frame that’s more suitable for many individuals who are trying to get (and stay) clean. Programs for rapid detox also offers a higher level of medical attention, assuring safety and comfort.