In 2015, reportedly 20.5 million Americans aged 12 and older had a substance use disorder. Out of this population, 2 million individuals were abusing prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. An estimated 23 percent of individuals who use heroin develop an opioid addiction. 
Opioid is the category of drug that includes the illicit drug heroin alongside prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and fentanyl, amongst many others.
Drug overdoses have emerged as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., as fatal drug overdoses have reached a whopping 52,404 figure in 2015. Opioids are the main driving force behind this epidemic, as 20,101 overdose fatalities were related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths occurred due to heroin use.
Opiate addiction has affected the lives of millions of Americans, making it vital for individuals to have easy access to treatments that are effective. Medical opiate detox is a safe, effective procedure to help people overcome opiate addiction. This medically controlled drug withdrawal process places patients on the road to a successful recovery.
What is Medical Detox?
Contrary to common perception, recovery begins at a medical detox center instead of a treatment facility. In fact, most treatment centers require their potential patients to go through complete detoxification and cleanse their systems off of drugs before entering treatment.
Detoxification is a medically monitored withdrawal from addictive substances, essentially in a controlled setting and typically under the care of a physician. Abusing any psychoactive substance can gradually lead to severe physical dependence, and any attempt to wean off can result in withdrawal symptoms of varying levels.
Opiates, in particular, are so powerfully addictive that detoxification comes with an array of serious complications affecting the body and health of the patient. Withdrawal symptoms could be experienced for several days.
Hence, the detoxification process is particularly designed to treat the consequent physical effects of managing drug use and the removal of residual chemical toxins in the body as safely as possible.
Medical opioid detox takes place on an inpatient basis, which means the entire detox duration is spent at a rehabilitation center. A staff of doctors, nurses and addiction specialists closely monitor the progress made by patients and their health at all times.
A patient may even have a specific professional assigned to watch their condition, ensuring appropriate care and medical treatments at all times, especially in case of harmful withdrawal symptoms. The patient remains in this supervised setting until the symptoms have largely been brought to a stop and the patient’s condition stabilizes.
Medical detox for opioids often includes the administration of various medications to make the process of weaning off less stressful on the patients, both physically and mentally.
Certain detox programs focus on a gradual stepping down of the drug involving less powerful opiates to help the patient systematically attain a complete sober state.
Other medications may also be part of the program to help deal with the consequent health problems from the addiction. These can include medications used to assist in sleeping at night or muscle painkillers to ease withdrawal discomfort. These medications can make the process of detox a lot easier for the patients.
The specific length of stay depends on a patient’s medical history. Medical detox cannot be pre-determined; it is a flexible process in which an inpatient stay may be extended or medications may be adjusted as per a patient’s needs.
The varying responses of patients toward detoxification are dependent upon their age, addiction history, physical state, emotional wellbeing and other personal elements. 
Importance of Medical Detox for Opiate Addiction
Patients are most likely to struggle with confusion and weakness during detoxification. They may even hallucinate, or experience difficulty controlling the movements and coordination of their arms and legs.
If an individual were to go through such extreme repercussions in an unsupervised setting, it could pose serious risks for an injury or even fatality. The patient may fall down from a height or have a violent reaction in response to a hallucination. Supervised opiate detox in a medical facility ensures the necessary safety to prevent any accidents or injuries to the patient.
What makes medical detox at a rehabilitation center even more necessary is the emotional and psychological support that patients receive during this tough and unstable time. Withdrawals are characterized by a rush of mixed emotions and severe mood swings as the opiates leave the system.
Some may even experience disabling depression or anxiety attacks.
The counselors and addiction specialists at the center are specially trained and well-equipped to provide the help and support desperately needed under such dire circumstances.
As the detox progresses, the physical ramifications are dealt with accordingly by medical specialists alongside a keen focus on underlying psychological and emotional issues.
There are several reasons as to why medical detox is considered necessary prior to treatment. Foremost, there may be several withdrawal symptoms present, complicating recovery during a detox period.
Certain withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that it may be fairly impossible for the patients to participate in daily program activities. The way treatment programs are designed through various activities, patients’ mental and physical stability are vital for their success. 
Furthermore, the safety of other residents in treatment is also a significant concern. Being around an individual undergoing detox or who has drugs in their system may initiate triggers for the other patients or create unsafe situations.
Medical detox also allows the specialists to conduct detailed evaluations on individual patients to identify any co-occurring underlying conditions fueling the patient’s addiction.
As far as the duration of detox is considered, there is no definitive answer. It can typically last from 5 to 14 days depending on the intensity of the patient’s condition and amount, frequency and type of the substances consumed.
Detox is the First Step Toward Recovery
In face of all this information, it is vital to keep in mind that detox is just the first step of recovery. It is by no means a complete recovery program in itself. The purpose of detox is to assess the individual and establish a comprehensive treatment plan that best fits the individual. Further treatment is what targets and tries to rectify the addictive behaviors to ensure a long lasting recovery.
What extra measures do you think can be taken to encourage patients with an opiate addiction to undergo medical detox?
About the Author:
A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.
Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on July 15, 2017.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 26, 2017
Published on AddictionHope.com