When abstinence is an appropriate goal, controlled studies and systematic reviews confirm that rapid, antagonist-precipitated opiate withdrawal procedures are the most effective and cost effective methods of initiating abstinence, and naltrexone (NTX) maintenance. While 'rapid' withdrawal, better conceptualised as Rapid Antagonist Induction (RAI), can often be humanely achieved with modest sedation levels, we present three case histories to support our argument that for some patients, general anaesthesia (GA), or techniques of intravenous sedation (IVS) that approach GA, are essential for safety and success. This includes patients with intercurrent disease (e.g. epilepsy or insulin-dependent diabetes) but also those with severe withdrawal phobia after previous distressing experiences. We discuss the history of the procedure. The dangers of RAI under GA or IVS in experienced hands have been exaggerated and the appropriate expertise should be more easily available. Patients and clinicians readily accept risks of major surgery for the excessive intake of food that causes most obesity. Similar risk-acceptance exists in cosmetic surgery and obstetrics. The increasing use and effectiveness of long-acting implants or depot-injections of NTX for relapse-prevention have largely solved compliance problems that undermined the potential of oral NTX. Their ability to prevent opiate overdose in abstinent, non-tolerant patients also strengthens arguments both for offering RAI as a therapeutic option and for reducing psychological, professional and practical barriers to using it.
Keywords: Naltrexone; anaesthesia; antagonist; detoxification; diabetes; epilepsy; heroin; opiate; sedation; withdrawal.