Did you know that heroin, which, for many, summons up images of dirty syringes, desperate lives, and criminality, was once considered by the medical community as a “wonder drug”, and was even prescribed for children suffering from coughs and colds?

Before it became known as a powerful, highly addictive recreational drug, heroin was used in the field of medicine. However, that was only until its propensity to lead to addiction was fully known. In the 1890s, Bayer, a German pharmaceutical company, marketed heroin successfully as a morphine substitute (which itself had led to a high rate of addiction), primarily in the treatment of respiratory diseases, and as a cough suppressant.

Because of these medical prescriptions, at the beginning of the 1900s, heroin addiction in the U.S. and throughout western Europe had, quite unsurprisingly, skyrocketed. Use of the drug led quickly to a high level of dependence and, ultimately, profound addiction.

Heroin, like all opiates, is derived from the opium poppy plant, where morphine is the active narcotic ingredient. Opioid-based prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, fentanyl, codeine, and Vicodin, are the semi-synthetic versions of opiates, now often used for getting high and self-medicating, and the reason the U.S. is currently in the grip of an opioid epidemic amongst its population.

Because of the nature of heroin, and other opiate, addiction, a process of detoxification, where the harmful toxins created in the body need to be removed safely while limiting the severity of withdrawal symptoms, is required, and is more commonly known simply as “detox.” This article describes 3 different types of available detox for heroin addiction:

Inpatient Detox

An inpatient detox basically means that the heroin addict receives the detoxification treatment within the clinical environment of a hospital, addiction treatment center, or another medically-recognized facility. This enables medical professionals to monitor the severity of withdrawal symptoms 24/7, to administer other drugs to ease those symptoms, and be ready should a medical emergency result. Such drugs, known as opioid agonists, usually include either buprenorphine or methadone, a substitute for the heroin, and physical dependency upon heroin during the detox is reduced.

Outpatient Detox

If an inpatient detox is not possible, heroin addicts can be detoxed as an outpatient. The same opioid agonists can be administered by a medical professional. Such patients either have to attend hospital or other medical facility to receive their medication, or can be treated at home. They require frequent clinical check-ups to see the progress of treatment. Outpatient detox is normally used for newer heroin users who experience only moderate withdrawal symptoms.

Rapid (or Ultra Rapid) Detox

Introduced around 30 years ago, rapid detox involves the patient being put under anesthesia for 4-6 hours while opioid antagonist drugs, eg. naltrexone, essentially “kick” the heroin, or other opiate, out of the body’s system. This method is meant to circumvent the pain and suffering of heroin withdrawal since the person is sedated during the process.

However, because addiction is a relapsing brain disorder, rapid detox is not recommended by treatment providers and professionals, as detox is only the beginning of the recovery process, and many addicts who undergo this detox indeed return to their former drug use.

Important to Remember...

Once withdrawal is over, the addict can them begin their journey to recovery through rehabilitation of some kind. Heroin withdrawal symptoms, similar to an intense bout of the flu, are not life-threatening in themselves, but can cause complications to existing conditions, so either an inpatient or outpatient detox is recommended for all heroin addicts. In other words, the detoxification process needs to be carried out under strict guidance from medical professionals.

Published by Justin Schumakar