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Herbert Kleber June 19, 1934 - October 5, 2018

Remembering the life of substance abuse treatment pioneer Herbert Kleber

Originally published by Beyond the Dash on October 03, 2019

American psychiatrist and substance abuse researcher Dr. Herbert Kleber passed away on October 5, 2018, at the age of 84. He is credited with pioneering the destigmatization of addiction within the medical community and beyond.

Herbert Kleber was born on June 19, 1934, to parents Max and Doethea Kleber. His father encouraged him to pursue a career in medicine from an early age. He briefly considered changing his educational focus to literature and philosophy, until "a psychology class inspired Kleber to remain pre-med, and he graduated from Dartmouth in 1956." He completed his psychiatry residency in 1964 and went on to work in a Public Health Service Prison.

He discovered firsthand that current addiction treatment models were ineffective in treating and preventing addiction. His solution was to approach addiction scientifically, using research data to point to remedies, rather than relying on old methods of shame and punishment. Instead of viewing a person's addiction as an issue of moral shortcoming, Kleber viewed it as a health condition. Treatment that was evidence-based and compassionate turned out to be more effective. He researched withdrawal symptoms, relapse triggers and conditions that affected patients' ability to remain sober. These issues were previously untested in controlled settings, and his data-driven approach gave credibility to the field as a whole.

Herbert Kleber went on to co-author over 250 papers. He was appointed Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy by President George H.W. Bush. Additionally, Dr. Kleber co-founded the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (now Center on Addiction). In 1996 he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and sat on several boards including the Betty Ford Institute, the Treatment Research Institute, and Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Herbert Kleber suffered a heart attack on October 5, 2018, while vacationing with his family in Santorini, Greece.

"His legacy...will be the trained generations of professionals who will carry on his work and the thousands of lives that have been saved."

The New York Times

He was remembered in a Google doodle on October 1, 2019. Over the course of his career, Kleber broke stigma in addiction. The impacts of his research, work and philosophy have likely save countless lives. His unparalleled contributions to public health will not be forgotten.

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