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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Remembering an Addiction Medicine Pioneer

addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a federal-government research institute whose mission is to "lead the Nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction." Many Americans are familiar with NIDA and its director Dr. Nora Volkow; however, the majority of those with knowledge of the organization are unaware of its origins. NIDA is the offspring of the Addiction Research Center, part of United States Public Health Service (PHS), established in Lexington, Kentucky.

One of the pioneers in addiction treatment got his start in the field after college by volunteering for the United States Public Health Service. In 1964, Dr. Herbert Kleber thought he would fulfill his military obligation by working for the USPHS, but he didn’t know he would be assigned to the Public Health Service Prison Hospital at Lexington, Ky, The New York Times reports. He couldn’t have known then that that position would result in a career in addiction medicine.

Upon completing his two-year obligation Kleber had plans to go into psychiatry; but, he would soon realize that his work with the Addiction Research Center caused others to think he had a better understanding of addiction than most doctors, according to the article. Pleas for help on the subject matter from not just doctors but also parents led Dr. Kleber to become an expert and pioneer in the field.

Pioneer in Addiction Treatment


Dr. Herbert Kleber died at the age of 84 on October 5, 2018, while vacationing with his family in Greece. He suffered a heart attack on the island of Santorini. Over the course of his career, Kleber’s work led to several advancements in the field of addiction medicine; he developed treatments that would make withdrawal more comfortable for patients. His methods would also help people avoid relapse and maintain programs of recovery, the article reports. His work transformed the study of addiction into a medical discipline.

“He was at the vanguard of bringing scientific rigor to the area of addiction,” said Dr. Frances R. Levin, director of the division on substance use disorders (started by Dr. Kleber) at Columbia University Medical Center. 

When Kleber began work at the prison hospital in Lexington, a facility that “treated” many celebrities over the years including William S. Burroughs (“Junky,” 1953), the approach to addiction treatment was punitive. In contrast, Dr. Kleber designed “evidence-based treatment” methods rooted in science rather than the moral turpitude of such conditions. He co-founded the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, now the Center on Addiction).

“His legacy,” Joseph Califano, Jr., the former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter, said in a statement, “will be the trained generations of professionals who will carry on his work and the thousands of lives that have been saved.”

Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment


Everyone working in the field of addiction today owes Dr. Kleber a debt of gratitude for his tireless efforts in the area of addiction. Who knows how different things would be today if it were not for the advancements he helped bring about, he was one of the catalysts who helped create the paradigm shift in society viewing addiction as a disease. When asked how he kept his head up after working with alcoholics and addicts for so long, Dr. Kleber quoted the Talmud:

“The day is short. The task is difficult. It is not our duty to finish it, but we are forbidden not to try.” 

Please contact the Haven at Pismo if you are struggling with drugs and alcohol, and would like to begin the journey of recovery. We provide medically supervised top-quality care that utilizes evidence-based treatment modalities. The Haven is the perfect place to renew to your best today.

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