by Amy Cortney
June 24, 2001
I was a prostitute on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey and I used to stand on a corner right under an enormous neon colored billboard that screamed out, “Heroin Detoxification-Confidential Four Hour procedure”. I would sometimes laugh to myself and say that I should be getting paid for all the free advertising I was giving to Dr. Lance Gooberman, otherwise known as Dr. Detox.
Standing there everyday and every night I was a glaring example of Heroin Addiction and I, at the very least, thought that he should give me a free procedure. I remember seeing Gooberman on T.V. talk shows hawking his Ultra Rapid Opiate Detox as the closest thing heroin addicts had to a cure. I also knew that there was no way I would ever be one of the fortunate few who had it performed because it cost almost $3,500. UROD was reserved for kids whose parents had the money to pay for it and they were exactly who Gooberman geared his billboards to. After all, the billboards were placed strategically on the highways on the way to and from the drug sets. Those of us who lived in the drug-infested areas didn’t venture out to the highways very often. That is unless, of course, you were a prostitute and worked there.
I had a regular guy that picked me named Bob who became a very good friend. He wanted nothing more than to help me get out of the life. He used to say that he saw something more in me and I would just turn my head and nod knowing that my eyes would betray me if he saw them. I knew that I didn’t belong there but I had long since abandoned any shred of hope. After all, I was a heroin-addicted, crack-addicted, homeless prostitute with no chance of getting out.
Though Bob saw something in me and he didn’t give up. On one of our regular dates, he brought a brochure with him that had those same words that my familiar billboards had. Bob offered to pay the $3,400 for the UROD procedure and I agreed. I looked at it as the secret cure that women like me never got the chance at because we didn’t have parents who were willing to pay for it. Our families got long since given up for very good reason. We were sick, hopeless and a very high-risk investment to spend good money on. Though Bob was willing. One can call him stupid or naïve or as I would like to call him, an angel in disguise.
Bob made an appointment for me and they wanted him to bring the full payment in without even seeing me once. They never examined me, took any blood or urine and never even had a conversation with me. Though, they took his non-refundable $3,400 cashier’s check with no questions asked.
Gooberman doesn’t perform the procedure in a hospital. It is all done in his office in a very large room aligned with beds. They schedule about twelve people on Tuesdays and Thursdays and on the other days they replace implants that have dissolved.
I walked in to the office and the first thing I noticed was the enormous sign that had the Twelve Steps on them. I wondered why they were there because I assumed I wouldn’t have to go to any meetings. I was going to be cured, right?
I had a brief meeting with Gooberman himself and he recited a very rehearsed speech about the side effects and the risks associated with his procedure. I don’t remember any of it because he was talking way too fast and I was starting to get very nervous. He then wrote about five prescriptions and handed them to Bob telling him that he needs to fill them at the pharmacy up the street. Apparently, it was the same pharmacist that worked with Gooberman to develop the famed Naltrexone Implant. I wondered why I was going to need all those prescriptions since I was going to wake up free and clear of all sickness and disease.
The nurse then came in and escorted me into that room with the beds. I was the first person there and was led to a small bathroom where I was to remove all my clothes and put them in a milk crate. Then, I was handed a diaper and a hospital gown that was so big I had to wrap it around myself almost three times. I was shown to a hospital bed where I laid down. The room was freezing and I was shivering from the cold and from fear. The nurse, who was very nice and helpful, was attempting to start an IV and was having much difficulty finding a vein. One would think that with the clientele they see they would be more proficient in finding difficult veins. She finally was able to find a vein in my neck and by then I was near hysteria. I was scared, cold, and wanted so badly to just get up and leave. Though, they gave me a sedative to relax me and started to explain what they were going to do.
First, the anesthesiologist would administer the medication that would render me unconscious for 4 hours. People on Methadone or who have had any Methadone in their system had to have a 6-hour procedure. After that, the nurse would administer the Narcan and Naltrexone. Those medications would block all opiate receptors in the brain and the mind and body would begin ridding itself of all opiates. Then, while under anesthesia, the doctor will come in and cut a small incision in the abdomen. The Naltrexone implant then gets shoved as far into the patient as possible. They need to get it as deep as possible so that it would be more difficult for patients to rip it out themselves. I was told that I wouldn’t feel a thing and I would wake up free from opiates ready to start my new life.
I assume that they either aren’t aware of what people really go through or they just don’t want to scare people to death. The truth is, it was a nightmare. Though it was true that I wasn’t aware of anything, I wasn’t totally “out”. My subconscious mind was alive and well and was actively responding to having it’s whole pleasure center eliminated. What went on inside my brain can only be compared to one’s most horrific nightmare multiplied by a thousand. Everything I feared and everything that made me unhappy was showing itself and I had no ability to get out of it. I was told later that they had to restrain me because I was flailing around so wildly they were fearful that I would hurt myself. I remember when I was starting to wake up I kept hearing the most dreadful noise I had ever heard in my life. It sounded like an animal in sheer agony. When I heard the man in the next bed say, “Why is she making those noises?” I realized that they were coming from me. The next thing I heard was the nurse say, “Oh my God, she is nowhere near finished yet” and they sedated me for a couple more hours.
The next time I woke up, a tall male nurse that I hadn’t seen before was dragging me into the bathroom. He handed me a diaper and told me to change myself. Apparently, I had soiled and wet myself to the point that I was leaking. The nurse treated me like a child that had done something disgusting and needed to be punished. I cannot recall how I managed to get the diaper off and the new one on but I was back in my bed again crying my eyes out because I was in the most excruciating pain I had ever known. The next thing I knew, the same nurse came back and told me that I had to walk on my own before they would release me. He seemed a little impatient about it too as if I was keeping him there past quitting time. I don’t know how I walked, but I’m pretty sure he actually dragged me. No sooner than I was out of bed, I was in the car and on my way home.
Everything else that happened, Bob had to tell me about later. I have no recollection of coming home and getting into bed. Bob said that I kept hitting him and trying to bite him. He said I was like a wild animal and when I think about it now, I really was. That is what those people reduced me to. I came to them a human being with a disease and left there an animal with the same disease untreated. Nothing could prepare me for what I was to endure over the next few weeks.
I was still in full-blown withdrawal only it was unlike any withdrawal I had ever endured before. This time I had all the typical symptoms topped off by such extreme insanity that I really don’t know how I didn’t kill myself or someone else. I think what “saved me” was my inability to navigate a trip to the bathroom let alone a suicide or homicide.
I started to feel relatively human again after about three weeks. Though, nothing improved. In the absence of the physical pain, I went into a complete psychological and emotional crisis. I heard voices all around me at all times warning me of impending doom. I kept hearing these voices tell me that I’m a horrible person not worthy of anything good and that I really should just kill myself. I eventually ended up in a dark room, in a corner, drinking and smoking crack until I was ready to jump out the window. I have no idea why or how I lived through that.
There is so much more to this story and I know I could go on and on describing this experience. Though, I will share one more story and finally stop being haunted by the past. I am hopeful that I will be able to close the book on that time in my life and move on to a life filled with joy and free from fear and pain. I thank God with every fiber of my being that I was able to find Methadone, a humane, effective treatment for heroin addiction that has been the closest thing I have known to a cure…A REAL cure.
About three weeks after I underwent the UROD procedure that was supposed to “free me from active addiction”, I stood in front of my dearest friend Bob and told him through tears that if there was a gun and a bag of dope sitting on the table and I had to choose between his life and that bag, I would blow him away. I said those words with total conviction and without hesitation and with such disdain for his life that I knew then that UROD not only robbed me of my ability to feel any joy whatsoever, it robbed me of my humanity.
Only time and proper medical treatment with Methadone has allowed me to regain all I had lost and then some. I recently heard that Dr. Lance Gooberman is no longer performing the UROD procedure due to seven deaths associated with it. I can only hope that through their deaths, the powers that be will stand up and take notice of a barbaric procedure hiding under the guise of medicine and put a stop to it at long last. Only then will I be able to truly say that it was all worth it…
June 24, 2001