The world of medicine seems to be getting quackier and quackier as rapidly advancing cures and medicines meet myth and marketing. Diet pills, hangover cures, and sexual dysfunction treatments spew from the medical-industrial complex, graying the lines between science and selling. It is against this backdrop that the Orange County-based Waismann Institute’s “rapid detox” for heroin addicts has inspired awe and doubt.
Its proponents claim the core of the Waismann Method takes only 20 minutes and involves putting an opiate or pain-killer addict under anesthesia, and using a combination of drugs to cleanse the patient’s body. The method compresses the painful withdrawal period into a matter of minutes and spares addicts from the pain usually associated with the experience because they are unconscious for about an hour. Patients can be discharged after about a day but must continue taking a drug called naltrexone to, according to an account in Wired magazine, block the effects of illicit narcotic use should a patient relapse.
Proponents of the method claim a 65 percent success rate after just one year, far greater than the 30 to 40 percent success rates of methadone treatment and 12-step programs. Waismann’s believers say it’s all about how addiction is viewed. They say the traditional way of treating addiction – 12-step programs – involves a belief in spiritual and mental change, but has little to do with science. Waismann, they say, is a medical treatment that looks directly at the biology and chemistry of addiction and does something about it. “Physical opiate dependency is a central nervous system disorder that can be reversed with appropriate, physician-administered medical treatment,” states the official Waismann philosophy. “Patients deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion, rather than contempt and alienation.”
Some critics say the method amounts to a money-making Band-Aid, but the American Society of Addiction Medicine reportedly supports the treatment. Waismann’s principals are Clifford A. Bernstein, an assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology at UC Irvine, and Michael H. Lowenstein, also an anesthesiologist.
“The 12-step program is an outdated 20th-century concept,” Bernstein told Wired. “For 70 years, thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous, addicts have been told they’re suffering from a spiritual problem. AA assumes that you can talk someone out of their addiction – which is ridiculous. Addiction is a medical problem. If somebody has cancer, you don’t try to talk them out of their disease.”