“Although providers advertise anesthesia-assisted detox as a fast and painless method to kick opiate addiction, the evidence does not support those statements,” says Dr. Collins. “Patients should consider the many risks associated with this approach, including fluid accumulation in the lungs, metabolic complications of diabetes, and a worsening of underlying bipolar illness, as well as other potentially serious adverse events,” he says. Those with preexisting medical conditions—including some psychiatric disorders, elevated blood sugar, insulin-dependent diabetes, prior pneumonias, hepatitis, heart disease, and AIDS—are particularly at risk for anesthesia-related adverse events. “Careful screening is essential with the anesthesia-assisted method, because the thought of sleeping through withdrawal is so compelling that some patients may conceal their medical histories,” says Dr. Collins.
“We now have several rigorous studies indicating that anesthesia-assisted detox— a costly and risky approach—offers no advantage over other methods,” says Dr. Ivan Montoya of NIDA’s Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse. Dr. Montoya notes, “The low retention of patients in subsequent outpatient treatment in the present study, which is not unusual for the opiate-addicted population, highlights the need to engage people in long-term recovery after detoxification.”