Rapid and ultrarapid opioid detoxification techniques

JAMA. 1998 Jan 21;279(3):229-34. doi: 10.1001/jama.279.3.229.


Objective: To review the scientific literature on the effectiveness of rapid opioid detoxification (RD) (opioid withdrawal precipitated by naloxone hydrochloride or naltrexone) and ultrarapid opioid detoxification (URD) (opioid withdrawal precipitated by naloxone or naltrexone under anesthesia or heavy sedation) techniques.

Data sources: The MEDLINE database was searched from 1966 through 1997 using the indexing terms naloxone, naltrexone, substance dependence, and substance withdrawal syndrome. Additional data sources included bibliographies of papers identified on MEDLINE and bibliographies in textbooks on substance abuse.

Study selection: Inclusion criteria were studies of RD or URD, pharmacologic protocols specified, and clinical outcomes specified and reported. Exclusion criteria were unpublished data, data not in peer-reviewed journals, abstract-only publications, and review articles.

Data extraction: The methodologic characteristics of studies were extracted by the authors and summarized according to key components of research design concerning subject characteristics, therapy allocation, and outcomes assessed.

Data synthesis: A qualitative analysis was performed on the 12 studies of RD and the 9 studies of URD identified in our search. The RD studies enrolled 641 subjects (range for individual studies, 1-162): 7 were inpatient studies, and the protocols varied considerably, as did the outcomes assessed. Three RD studies included a control group, 2 used a randomized design, and 3 reported outcomes beyond 12 days. The URD studies enrolled 424 subjects (range for individual studies, 6-300): all were inpatient studies, the detoxification and anesthesia protocols varied, 3 included a control group, 2 used a randomized design, and 2 reported outcomes for URD beyond 7 days.

Conclusions: The existing literature on RD and URD is limited in terms of the number of subjects evaluated, the variation in protocols studied, lack of randomized design and use of control groups, and the short-term nature of the outcomes reported. Further research is needed using more rigorous research methods, longer-term outcomes, and comparisons with other methods of treatment for opioid dependence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Naloxone / therapeutic use*
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Research Design
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / prevention & control*


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Naloxone
  • Naltrexone