David Saffer meets a doctor whose revolutionary work has benefited thousands
BRAZIL-BORN Dr Andre Waismann is a world leader in reversing opiate dependency. Since establishing the world's first treatment centre at the Barzilay Hospital in Tel Aviv in the mid-90s, his modern techniques have benefited thousands of patients.
"I wish I could say I'm a genius and have developed this, but it's basic medicine," he says modestly.
And he adds: "I am happy to teach anybody from any academic or governmental institution to share what I know. Other doctors can then take it further."
Dr Waismann is head of the hospital's Accelerated Neuroregulation unit.
ANR reverses withdrawal syndromes and cravings for heroine, methadone, subutex and many other prescription opiate medications.
He and a specialist team of anaesthetists and ICU nurses perform the treatment only at the Tel Aviv clinic.
Every patient has an individual treatment according to specific drug-dependency and medical history. ANR cleanses the receptors in the brain, reducing withdrawal syndrome to a period of hours instead of days while a patient is unconscious.
The procedure reduces cravings to irrelevant levels when patients regain consciousness.
An after-care programme allows patients to regain control of their lives with no need for long-term rehabilitation programs.
Rio-born Dr Waismann's parents Emmanuel and Sultana had seven children.
"My father's family fled the pogroms in Russia and settled in Brazil," he said.
"My father was one of the first Jewish congressman in Brazil. He was also president of our temple - one of 10 synagogues in Rio - and head of Maccabi sports in the city.
"My mother's family were from Morocco so I'm half Ashkenazi and Sephardi.
"The Jewish community was large. There was a Jewish hospital and housing for elderly people. We had an influential community with powerful people in politics.
"Before I was born, David Ben-Gurion came to our house, which must have been incredible."
Andre added: "As a young boy I was influenced by American culture.
"Freedom was something I was always fighting for. Pesach came as a feeling of a philosophy of being free so it was my favourite festival."
Growing up in Rio, Andre loved soccer and was a keen surfer and swimmer.
"Brazil had a great side and, of course, Pele played for the national team," he said. "I was in the Maracana stadium when Pele scored his 1,000th goal in a match for Santos against Vasco Da Gama in November, 1969.
"Pele scored a penalty and the atmosphere was electrifying - it's impossible to describe.
"I used to surf at Copocabana beach and swim. I represented the Brazilian team at 100m and 200m freestyle and also butterfly.
"One of my brothers was a great swimmer and was due to compete in the Munich Olympics, but following the Israeli tragedy when athletes and officials were murdered, my brother left the Games immediately."
After graduating from high school, Andre began medical studies at Teresopolis University, 40 miles from Rio.
"My mother studied medicine, but because of her political activities at university - she was a communist - she was thrown out.
"For me, medicine was a natural thing to study, but when I finished medical school I didn't wait for graduation night. I made aliya to Israel.
"I'd visited Israel almost every year since the age of 11 so it was natural to live there. I'd had a comfortable life in Brazil because somebody was fighting for our dignity in the Middle East.
"My mother gave us an insight into great Jewish philosophers. I felt lucky to belong to the Jewish people and wanted to be part of building a country that fought for justice, equality and values.
"The war with Lebanon had started and I had a year to learn medical procedures.
"I wanted to be of help so I treated wounded soldiers in Naharia on the northern border.
"I started my army service with a medical unit and served in Lebanon."
Specialising in surgery, Andre also worked in trauma and intensive care units. He then took up reserve duties with a counter -terrorism parachute unit prior to spells with an intensive neo-natal unit and police counter-terrorism unit.
The ambitious medic researched various addictions, speaking with families of wounded soldiers who had developed opiate dependency six months after surgery, observing babies with severe withdrawn syndrome from narcotic mothers and criminals dependent on heroine.
"Soldiers with a chronic illness were prescribed painkillers that improved quality of life," he said. "But they needed a higher dosage to have the same effect to a point where they were hooked.
"Weaning a new-born off methadone would take two months and police would provide criminals with methadone so they would stay calm.
"I asked myself what was common between a new-born, a hero and a criminal. Opiate dependency was a neurological illness, not a physiological or social illness.
"I started researching but nothing had changed in the treatment of opiate dependency for 60 years. People confronted and managed secondary effects."
Dr Waismann's original technique in 1993 was called ultra rapid opiate detoxification.
He travelled the world to lecture, teach and introduce his revolutionary method.
Variations of the method appeared at medical facilities worldwide, but by 1997 - after treating thousands of patients at his clinic - Dr Waismann refined his technique, resulting in the ANR procedure.
He said: "The benefits of an effective, safe and humane treatment are:
"First, most patients come for treatment; second, all have a dependency and withdrawals reversed; and third, opiate cravings are not there.
"The earlier you treat opiate dependency the less psychological and social problems there will be.
"It's important to use strict protocols for all patients.
"Of course there are side effects, but modern medicine and modern bio-technology can reverse opiate dependency in all patients."
Despite his successes, Dr Waismann has been a victim of economic and political shenanigans.
Before opening his clinic, he went to the Knesset to explain what modern medicine could do.
"I could teach doctors in Israel but the committee were psychiatrists so I'd be taking work from them to anaesthesiologists," he recalled.
Dr Waissman experienced similar frustrations with the academic world.
"Painkillers are a best seller in the pharmaceutical industry," he lamented. "I wanted to make a difference so went to the best private clinic in Tel Aviv and showed the chief of general anaesthesia what I could do.
"I started taking patients and my procedure started to grow very fast.
"I stopped fighting the government but eventually succeeded because today war veterans are paid for by the Ministry of Defence."
In recent years, Dr Waissmann has seen opiate dependency finally become recognised as a central nervous system disorder caused by continuous opiate intake, but he is determined to keep fighting.