Ultra Detox: The Wrong Fix?

A doctor who agreed to stop treating heroin addicts with a procedure linked by state investigators to the deaths of six patients insists the practice helped thousands kick the habit.

Dr. Lance Gooberman reached an agreement Wednesday with the state Board of Medical Examiners that temporarily bars him from performing the treatment in his clinic in a Philadelphia suburb.

He is among only a dozen doctors in the country to perform the treatment touted as a swift and relatively painless cure for heroin addicts who are anesthetized while drugs cleanse their brain of heroin.

The treatment costs $2,900 to $3,600 and is not covered by most health insurance plans.

In a complaint filed earlier this month, the state said the treatment is too risky and cited the deaths of six people who underwent the procedure. It accused Gooberman and his associate, Dr. David Bradway, of serious lapses in medical care and criticized their use of the procedure.

The patients died less than three days after receiving the treatment, known as Ultra Rapid Opiate Detoxification, according to the complaint. The deaths occurred between 1995 and last June.

"The only thing ultra about ultra detox was the risk to the health of the patients," Mark Herr, director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs, said Thursday. "This is a treatment that is not medically established nor recognized."

The state is seeking civil penalties and revocation or suspension of both doctors' medical licenses. Their lawyer says she will oppose those attempts at an administrative hearing. A date has not been set.

Gooberman estimates he has performed the ultra rapid detox on 2,300 patients at his Merchantville clinic since 1995 with few incidents. His lawyer says there is no evidence the deaths were caused by the treatment, and claims at least two deaths were related to subsequent cocaine use by the patients.

"There are thousands of them being performed all over the world," Gooberman said. "I was trying to help patients to the best of my ability."

Two heroin addicts who joined Gooberman at a news conference praised the doctor and the technique.

"If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd be right now," said 20-year-old Stephanie, who said she began shooting up when she was 15. She spoke on the condition her last name not be used. "I kept trying and trying to get clean."