Letter: 'Cure' for drugs is not new

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The Independent Online
THE National Addiction Centre appears to have misinformed Jason Bennetto in describing its plans to use a 'new' method of rapid withdrawal from heroin under anaesthesia ('Drug 'cure' gives addicts hope', 24 July).

The basic technique, using the heroin-blocking drugs naloxone and naltrexone, is not new and was actually developed at the University of Vienna, not in Spain. The first reports about it appeared in 1989. Indeed, the Stapleford Centre has been using a similar technique using heavy sedation with orally- administered drugs since 1986.

We have also withdrawn several patients under anaesthesia. Although it is undoubtedly the most humane method of withdrawal, it is much more expensive than oral sedation because it requires an anaesthetist and individual nursing in an intensive-care unit.

You are right to put the word 'cure' in quotation marks. Detoxification is emphatically not the same as cure, but it is an important step on the road to liberation for many addicts. We do not subscribe to the view that suffering during withdrawal is therapeutic. Once patients are detoxified, taking naltrexone regularly under family or medical supervision is a very effective way of reducing the risk of relapse during the difficult period after detoxification. Milder forms of discomfort and difficulty in sleeping may persist for many weeks.

Robert Mawson Purves

The Stapleford Centre

London SW1