Put Me Out, Doc!
While I’m on the subject of rip-offs, I’ll mention an extreme form of ‘detox capitalism’; a process called rapid opioid withdrawal, rapid detox, or ‘the Waismann Method.’
The name of the process supposedly comes from a certain ‘Dr. Waismann’ who helped Israeli soldiers get off opioids after they were treated for various injuries. It sounds like a pretty exciting history, but to be honest there is nothing in the technique that takes a rocket scientist to figure out. The basic idea is to precipitate withdrawal using an opioid antagonist— something that is done many times over every day in emergency rooms across the U.S.—but to do it while the person is sedated with non-opioid medications.
I never expected to admit this back when it occurred, but I had the bright idea of putting myself through ‘rapid opioid detox’ shortly before entering treatment ten years ago, when I was desperately searching for a way to free myself from opioids.
Like any typical addict I wanted to do it entirely by myself, figuring that I knew as much about opioids and medicine as anyone else. I loaded up on naltrexone (an oral form of naloxone) thinking that the antagonist would block my receptors, lower my tolerance, and prevent me from using for as long as I took the naltrexone.
I simplified things a bit by omitting the sedation—a good idea since there was no other doctor monitoring me, but a bad idea because I experienced about a week of withdrawal condensed into several intensely-miserable hours. I remember being shocked at just how much sweat my body could produce in such a short time, as liquid beaded on my skin as fast as I could wipe it off!
After the real horrible period—the period that I would have slept through had I come up with $15,000 plus airfare—I remained quite ill for a matter of weeks. And of course that is what happened, since it takes weeks for tolerant mu receptors to be replaced by new, normal mu receptors. Until the receptors are replaced, the brain’s endorphin pathways remain quiet, causing hypersensitivity to pain—not to mention diarrhea, restless legs, cramping, gooseflesh, and depression.
There are several variations of rapid detox, but the principles are the same for all of them:
– The addict is given a strong sedating medication or anesthetic
– While heavily sedated, the addict is given an intravenous infusion of the opioid antagonist naloxone to precipitate withdrawal.
– After a period of time that varies with the name of the facility, the addict wakes up; one day of withdrawal gone, and only two more months of withdrawal to go!
– The process costs from five to ten thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.
– Different options are tossed in for different programs, everything short of an extended warranty: amino acid cocktails, ‘vital nutrients,’ or long-term sedatives.
– In some cases a chip of naltrexone is implanted that slowly releases over weeks, supposedly preventing a high from using—provided the addict doesn’t become desperate and use very high doses of heroin, or dig the implant from his/her body using a fork!
Web sites for the procedure point out that opioid dependence is a relapsing illness and that people who use Suboxone relapse when they stop Suboxone (no argument from me), but go on to claim a 70% one-year sobriety rate after their rapid-detox procedure—without any explanation for how they get better numbers than Suboxone patients. I have never seen peer-reviewed studies showing such success rates.
Speaking of peer-reviewed studies, I have seen a study of rapid detox showing what is intuitively obvious—that since it takes a number of weeks for the body to adjust to the lack of opioids, one day of sedation avoids only a tiny portion of the misery of withdrawal. Is it worth ten grand to avoid one day of withdrawal, knowing that several more weeks of withdrawal are yet to come? I suppose it depends on one’s checking account.
But the bigger issue is the poor long-term outcome for these people—a problem similar to what I described in my post about Sneetches. Early in the spiral of addiction, addicts and their families are under the mistaken belief that the hardest part of ‘kicking opioids’ is to get through physical withdrawal.
They eventually they learn that they are wrong, and that it is much more difficult and rare to STAY clean than it is to GET clean—but ‘rapid detox’ makes money off their ignorance in the meantime. Quitting opioids by rapid detox, amino acids, magic crystals, hypnosis, or a host of other expensive, highly-promoted methods reminds me of the story about the guy boasting about how easy it was to quit smoking—so easy that he’s done it over 20 times!
In my next post I’ll talk in greater detail about the stages that addicts go through, as they learn that long-term sobriety is more difficult than any quick-fix. In the meantime, remember what they say about things that sound too good to be true.
Junig, J. (2011). Put Me Out, Doc!. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 10, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/epidemic-addiction/2011/01/put-me-out-doc/