N E W Y O R K, April 20 -- A controversial and expensive rapid detox method of helping heroin and other addicts shed their drug habit has an important new convert.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, a 300-bed hospital in Lubbock, is apparently the first major, academic medical center to offer the method to flush opiates from an addict's system while the person is under anesthesia.
Heroin, codeine and Dilaudid, among other analgesic drugs, belong to the class of compounds known as opiates, which act on special receptors in the brain. The human body has these receptors because we naturally manufacture chemicals to manage pain.
Anesthesia for 4 to 6 Hours
"The treatment lasts anywhere from 4 to 6 hours," says Dr. Alan Kaye, chair of the anesthesiology department at Texas Tech. When a patient wakes up there is limited nausea, vomiting and no physical dependence on the drugs, he explains. The patient may remain in the hospital for a few days.
Traditional outpatient or inpatient opiate withdrawal, in which a patient is more slowly weaned from a drug, can be painful and even life-threatening, if a patient is not carefully watched.
But the rapid method — which physicians and private companies now offer addicts at small hospitals in about 20 locations throughout the country — has come under fire recently.
Critics say the treatment, which can cost between $3,000 and $8,000, is unproven and costing addicts money they could be spending for standard withdrawal programs. Health insurance generally does not cover the procedure.
Expensive and Potentially Risky
"There is a risk for generalized anesthesia and I am not sure the relapse rates rapid detox programs achieve are any better than what I get with my patients," says Dr. Rick Beach, a specialist in addiction medicine in Pensacola, Fla.
Addicts failing to stay free of drugs after treatment is a significant problem, he says.
The state of New Jersey is also trying to take away the medical license of rapid detox proponent Dr. Lance Gooberman because seven of his patients allegedly died from the procedure. A malpractice case against the physician is also ongoing.