Specialists criticise treatment for heroin addiction

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 10 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1365
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    Addiction specialists in Britain are calling for a careful review of a technique for rapid opiate detoxification using general anaesthesia, after a patient died undergoing the procedure in a private London clinic.

    Brendan Woolhead, the Irishman who survived the explosion of an IRA bomb on a bus near the Aldwych in London, died eight months later because of “grossly negligent treatment” for his heroin addiction at the Welbeck Hospital in London, according to expert evidence given to last week's inquest into his death.

    Mr Woolhead used some of the compensation awarded after he was wrongly accused by the press of being a terrorist to pay for ultrarapid opiate detoxification in an effort to end his longstanding heroin addiction.

    The technique entails administering a general anaesthetic for six to eight hours at the same time as giving the opiate antagonist naltrexone. It is claimed to clear heroin and other opiates from the body within 48 hours, with the worst of the “cold turkey” withdrawal symptoms occurring while the patient is …

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