Before Dr. Herbert Kleber’s pioneering addiction research, substance abuse treatment was mostly ineffective. Now, he’s getting his Google Doodle due.
Tuesday’s Google Doodle honors the psychiatrist who reshaped modern addiction treatment in the US on the 23rd anniversary of his election to the National Academy of Medicine.
But before he trailblazed substance abuse research, Kleber didn’t plan to end up in the field. Psychiatry wasn’t a respected profession when he was a medical school student, he said in a 2013 interview with addiction studies author William White.
In 1964, he was assigned to a government-run prison hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The treatments at the time, which included “work” and group therapy, weren’t working for most of the prison’s addicts. Kleber said up to 90% of them relapsed shortly after their release.
So he approached addiction like a medical condition and treated it as such. He was one of the first to treat drug addiction with drugs like methadone, a stigma he fought for decades. He continued his research at Yale, where he took a holistic approach to drug treatment to help users get and stay clean.
He worked in the US government and Ivy League medicine
His work caught the eye of President George H.W. Bush, who in 1989 appointed Kleber the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. His education and prevention programs weakened demand for illegal substances, Drs. Jeffrey Lieberman and Frances Levin of Columbia University wrote.
He joined Columbia University’s department of psychiatry with his late wife Marian Fischman, where the pair spearheaded the National Policy Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. For 20 years there, he studied the effects of drug treatment with drugs like opiates and marijuana (the latter of which he staunchly stood against).
Kleber died of a heart attack while vacationing in Greece in October 2018, the New York Times reported at the time. Mourners celebrated his positivity in a stigmatized field.
“How else do I work with addicts for 40 years?” he said in a 2015 oral history for Columbia. “I’m a perpetual optimist.”