Betting $15,000 on a quick way to get clean, a Bay State opiate addict chewed his last Vicodin pills at the Las Vegas airport last month waiting for a connecting flight to salvation at the nation’s leading rapid detox center.
Kevin, who did not want his last name or hometown revealed, was popping 25 to 35 Vicodin or Percocet pills a day, burning his savings and watching his life falls apart when he decided a two-hour procedure at a California clinic was his last chance to kick the painkillers he’d been abusing since he injured his back shoveling five years ago.
For $15,000, Kevin paid the Waismann Institute to put him under general anesthesia in an intensive care unit and flooded his body with medicines to strip the brain’s opiate receptors of the drugs. When he woke up, Kevin said he was clean, sober and free of the drug cravings that were dictating his life.
“At 4 or 5 a.m. I used to wake up and eat three or four pills just so I felt halfway normal,” said Kevin, who is now taking naltrexone, an opiate-blocking agent. “(The day after the procedure) I woke up and I did not have that feeling.”
The rapid detox procedure Kevin underwent has sparked controversy for its efficacy, expense, and risk for years.
Critics in the medical field believe the procedure and follow-up data from patients need more scrutiny before it’s used in a clinical setting. Their counterparts in the detox field also assail the “magic bullet” approach.
“Detox is not treatment,” said Dr. Daniel Alford, medical director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s methadone maintenance program. “It’s like treating someone in the hospital with high blood sugar with insulin and then discharging him from the hospital without the insulin.”
In fact, a report published this month in the medical journal Addiction recommends general anesthesia no longer be used in rapid detox procedures.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital pulled the plug on rapid detox in 1998 after patients who participated in a study suffered shakes, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, nausea, and in the case of one patient, respiratory distress, said Dr. David Gastfriend, director of MGH’s addiction program. Of the seven patients who underwent the rapid detox at MGH, three relapsed within a month.
Dr. Clifford Bernstein, the Waismann Institute’s medical director, is frank that what he offers stops at medical detox. After-care is up to the patient and he estimates the clinic’s success rates at 65 percent to 75 percent a year.
“What I’m talking about is medicine. What they’re talking about is sweat it out and recite 12-step programs. It’s black and white,” Bernstein said.
Glenn Herring, a California father, and former drug counselor was taking 460 milligrams of methadone to treat his addiction to painkillers when he underwent the procedure earlier this month.
“I didn’t believe for a long time,” Herring said. “I went from 460 to zero.”
Source: Boston Herald
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