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Doctor offers addicts 'rapid' way off heroin

CNN Online
October 10, 1996

From Correspondent Peg Tyre

MERCHANTVILLE, New Jersey (CNN) -- Trisha Andrews has quit heroin cold turkey, and it's an experience she said "she wouldn't wish on her worst enemy."

First she worried she would die. Then she was afraid that she wouldn't. "I feel like I'm gonna jump out of my skin," she said of the withdrawal process.

Heroin detoxification has always been an excruciating ordeal. But Dr. Lance Gooberman, who operates out of a small New Jersey clinic, says he offers a better way: "ultra-rapid detox."

Gooberman puts his patients under general anesthesia, uses drugs to purge the heroin from their bodies and sends them home in as little as four hours.

With standard detoxification programs, "patients don't come in for treatment because they're afraid of pain," Gooberman said. And checking in doesn't guarantee success. "They don't stay to complete the treatment," he said.

Heroin has been part of Michelle Rossel's life for 10 years. She says she's an addict who has tried many times to stop. "I'm really trying a lot to get it right. I've been in quite a few detoxes."

Gooberman usually charges $2,800, an expense not covered by insurance. He agreed to detox Rossel for free after she agreed to be videotaped by CNN.

Here's what happened during the process:

  • After a nurse anesthetist put her under general anesthesia, Gooberman gave her drugs to flush the heroin from her system.
  • Gooberman placed a pellet of the drug naltrexone under the skin of Michelle's belly to prevent a relapse. If Michelle starts to use heroin again naltrexone works in the brain to block the high the drug ordinarily gives.
Hospitals in New York and Florida offer a similar procedure costing as much as $10,000. They keep patients overnight, and the procedure involves extensive follow-up care.

Bennett Oppenheim, who runs the New York program, is critical of Gooberman. "In my opinion, four hours for a procedure of that type is grossly insufficient to deal with the circumstances that we're dealing with."

Other addiction experts say ultra-rapid detox is risky and costs too much for an unproven procedure. "This is clearly not a miracle cure," said Dr. Herbert Kleber. "If it lived up to everything its sponsors wanted it to do it would simply be a better way of getting people detoxified. The trick is still keeping them off."

Three hours after going under anesthesia, Michelle began to stir. After 90 more minutes she's groggy and disoriented. But it is time to go home.