Mission Impossible; Heroin Hope at LastAustralia Women’s Weekly
It began as a seemingly long-shot chance for one girl to save herself. But it turned into something far greater than anyone ever imagine possible. In May this year, The Australian Women Weekly flew 25-year-old heroin addict Joanne Frare and her brother, Peter, halfway around the world to Tel-Aviv in Israel. In July, we brought you Tony Barnao’s inspiring world exclusive story on the treatment she received from a controversial medico, Dr. Andre Waismann.
Many in Australia now know his name. For not only did he cure Joanne of her addiction in six hours, he agreed to fly out here to share his ground-breaking medical procedure with our public health authorities.
This is the story of that journey – one almost as difficult for this passionate, yet frustrated surgeon to make as it has been for Joanne to fly 30 hours to undergo a life-saving treatment few doctors here had ever heard of. Difficult, because Dr Andre Waismann came here to offer hope and, as he expected, walked into an initial storm of criticism and, at times, hostile attack from elements within the drug-treatment establishment.
But something else happened during his eight-day trip in July. Something that amazed even Andre Waismann. As word spread and as addicts and their families reached out to him, so too did a handful of medical professionals who took the time to meet the doctor and discuss his techniques.
Suddenly, the heroin issue in this country was never going to be the same again. Andre Waismann’s message got through, and those same doctors are now readying themselves to fly to the Middle East to learn and eventually trial his procedures back in Australia later this year.
What you are about to read should make you feel proud and angry but, more importantly excited – and hopeful.
Joanne Frare’s story of triumph was just the beginning. It was the birth of an idea that has become an avalanche – the reality that more than 100,000 Australian mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who are lost to heroin can now come home.
A bold, dedicated and inspiring man called Dr Andre Waismann will be leading them.
The moment he landed in Sydney, Andre Waismann knew this trip was perhaps “the most significant event” in his ongoing war against heroin addiction and against medical establishments that treat users as losers.
“You know, I feel in my heart this will be different,” he told me as he strode into the TV spotlights hovering in the international arrivals terminal.
Most were there, not for his visit, but for the arrival on the same flight of the bodies of two Australians who perished in the bridge collapse at the Jewish Olympics (the 15th Maccabiah Games) in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“The whole journey I thought of them lying alone below me in the hold,” he confided. “And it seemed almost as if my reason for coming here, to offer hope, had new meaning, that I might be giving something back to a country that had lost its loved ones so tragically in my country.”
Andre Waismann is an insightful, intelligent man. He is also impatient, irreverent and moves like a whirlwind – too often headlong into raging controversy and rigid academia.
“I have no time for fools or ignorance,” he said, more than once, during his week-long campaign to open the eyes, ears and hearts of Australians to the reality that heroin is not invincible.
“I am no genius – just a doctor who is tired of seeing heroin addicts tossed onto the scrap heap or fed government-supplied drugs (methadone) to keep them under control, simply to keep us safe from them.”
The day he arrived, a newspaper splashed the photograph of a mother on heroin – sprawled in the gutter with her four-year-old son sitting next to her. Public outrage led police to pledge to take children away from moms who use heroin in the streets.
Andre Waismann shook his head in despair and asked was this the best we could do to help these families – tear them apart? He had just discharged four more Australians from his Tel Aviv clinic before flying to Australia. And since Joanne Frare’s treatment, more than 25 other Australians have followed suit. All are healthy, most are home, and to a man – and woman – they are no longer addicted to the curse that is heroin.
“But I do not want you to send me your addicts,” he said. “Send me your doctors instead. Let me show them what I do, and then, if they say I am a fraud, what have you lost?
“Make your politicians put this treatment where it belongs – in the hands of medical doctors. Put it in the public health system, free of charge.
“Heroin addiction is a medical condition, a central nervious system disorder that is reversible.
“These people are not mad, deranged or with so-called addictive personalities. They are trapped by a body and mind that constantly crave opiates. They can be healed – without methadone, without being locked away in rehabilitations centers. Believe me, the 3000 patients I have treated all know the truth.”
Andre Waismann repeated these words during his week of media appearances, meeting with health officials and in-depth discussions with a handful of doctors, neurologists and anaesthetists.
One team, from a major public hospital in Sydney, is now readying itself to trial his so-called accelerated opiate detoxification cure.
Ironically, it was the world “cure” that inflamed most of the initial hostility against him. Who was this blow-in surgeon from Israel, claiming heroin addiction was able to be overcome and mass methadone programs were an expensive mistake?
Within 48 hours of his arrival, the word began to spread that Dr Andre Waismann was not here to open a private clinic, not here to sell a treatment. He was here “to share my research and work with a country that appears refreshingly open to medical advances” – even if that work is effectively a death sentence to the billion-dollar methadone industry and a huge threat to the numerous detoxification and rehabilitation centres.
Brazilian-born, 39-year-old Andre Waismann has operated his Megama Institute in Tel Aviv since 1994. He works with Dr Michael Reiter, a psychologist who introduced the methadone program to Israel 25 years ago, but who has since turned his back on it and embraced Andre’s techniques as “the only real solution”.
It’s a conclusion many others also are now making.
“This is very exciting,” said Sydney neurologist Dr John Currie, after a two-hour grilling of Dr Waismann before several drug treatment experts, doctors and other vested-interest groups at the NSW Department of Health. “It makes perfect medical sense,” added Dr Currie.
“I have 1700 long-term addicts who have got off heroin, but can’t get off methadone. Dr Waismann’s treatment appears to be effective against both. We must go to Israel to learn and, if it is as effective as it seems, bring this procedure back without delay.”
Similar reactions came from other doctors, though Dr Waismann’s “proudest moment” was the night he addressed a public meeting in northern NSW in Joanne Frare’s home town, Lismore. More than 300 people crammed the local workers’ club to hear him, including addicts, families of users, doctors, politicians, business leaders and the media.
There he offered hope where none had been. When one young mother stood behind the microphone, she could say little other than “please help me”. He nodded knowingly. The woman returned to her seven-year-old son, who wiped tears from her eyes and embraced her. The boy’s addict father said a silent thank you.
They will hopefully be among the first to undergo Dr Waismann’s treatment when it is trialled here – as it surely now must be.
Andre Waismann flew out of Australia convinced his long journey here would make a “massive” difference to Australia’s approach to heroin addiction and will have an “inevitable” flow-on effect for the rest of the world.
“Australia can be a role model to all other enlightened nations,” he said.
Already dozens of addicts are scheduled to follow him to Israel to undergo his life-saving treatment in the coming months. However, several others have traveled to clinics in Los Angeles, New York and Europe offering similar procedures based on Andre Waismann’s early work.
Some have reported back with “less that spectacular” results, complaining of inadequacies with the treatment or its follow-up. Dr. Waismann says many businessmen are attempting to duplicate his work, but are offering procedures based on results from his early trials several years ago.
“Do not let the privateers follow me here after I leave,” he added. “Have this embraced by your public health system, as I am hopeful it will shortly be back in my country.”
“Joanne flew to the other side of the world and trusted in me to allow herself to be the first from your country. Remember her bravery and faith when you next hear someone talk of addicts as rejects and low-lifes. They are not, and they should not have to travel vast distances and suffer years in the darkness simply because no-one offered them an alternative.”