Quitting heroin under anesthesia is dangerous and ineffective

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According to a new study, having a general anesthesia is not an effective way for heroin users to avoid the painful, drawn-out process of breaking their habit and can be dangerous.

This extreme method is publicized as a quick way to withdraw from heroin addiction.

The treatment, which apparently costs $15,000, involves rendering the user unconscious and then rapidly administering an antagonist drug that neutralizes the heroin's effects.

Dr. Eric Collins, a Columbia University researcher, has evaluated three detoxification methods, on a total of 106 patients, between the ages of 21 to 50.

During the study, one group was put under general anesthesia and given the heroin antagonist naltrexone, another group were given a heroin substitute called buprenorphine and the antagonist, and a third employed the antihypertensive drug clonidine, which lessens withdrawal symptoms.

All of the patients were then offered 12 weeks of naltrexone and psychotherapy, aimed at preventing a relapse into heroin use.

The final results showed high relapse rates, with only 11 percent of the patients finishing treatment and achieving two clean urine tests.

Also three patients nearly died under the anesthesia, one suffered a severe buildup of fluids in the lungs and pneumonia, while another had a diabetic episode.

A third patient entered a bipolar mental state that required hospitalization.

According to the report, lung problems such as pneumonia and fluid buildup are a risk factor with general anesthesia, and even though the diabetic episode and bipolar case could have occurred with other detox approaches, the stress of rapidly administering the antagonist drug, and the awakening from anesthesia, could have triggered the dangerous health problems.

The report says that the majority of the 1 million heroin addicts in the U.S. are not in treatment or leave treatment early, because they are frightened of the physical discomforts of withdrawal.

Collins concludes, that taken together with the results of earlier studies, their findings suggest that general anesthesia, does not currently have a 'meaningful role to play in the treatment of opioid dependence'.

The report is published in the JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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