Background: In the present study a method of rapid opiate detoxification under general anaesthesia has been evaluated regarding the safety, the efficacy in preventing withdrawal symptoms, and the long-term results. In addition, it was investigated whether the profile and severity of withdrawal symptoms depend on the type of opiate abused (methadone, heroin, codeine, morphine).
Methods: Seventy-two opiate addicts were detoxified in an intensive care unit (ICU). Anaesthesia was induced and maintained using propofol infusion. Patients were endotracheally intubated. The opiate receptor antagonist naltrexon was administered into the stomach via a nasogastric tube. Withdrawal symptoms before and after the detoxification treatment were assessed using an objective and a subjective opiate withdrawal scale (OOWS, SOWS). After detoxification patients entered a long-term naltrexone maintenance programme as well as a supportive psychotherapy programme. Vital organ function was monitored using haemodynamic and respiratory parameters as well as body temperature.
Results: Organ function parameters were stable during the whole treatment in all patients and no anaesthetic complications were registered. Minor side effects such as bradycardia or hypotension were observed in 20 patients. Compared to patients with pre-existing heroin, codeine, or morphine abuse respectively, patients from the methadone maintenance programme had significantly higher (P<0.01) OOWS as well as SOWS values after the treatment. Twelve months after the detoxification 49 patients (68%) were abstinent from opiates whereas 17 patients had relapsed during the period of follow-up. Six patients were lost during follow-up.
Conclusions: Rapid opiate detoxification under general anaesthesia is a safe and efficient method to suppress withdrawal symptoms. This treatment may be of benefit in patients who particularly suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms during detoxification and who have failed repeatedly to complete conventional withdrawal. Methadone patients have more withdrawal symptoms than other opiate addicts.