On October 1st, the 23rd anniversary of when he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, Google honored the late Dr. Herbert Kleber with a Google Doodle and article highlighting the numerous achievements and impacts he had on the field of substance abuse treatment. Long considered a psychiatric pioneer, Dr. Kleber spearheaded the treatment of addiction and substance use as a medical condition rather than a moral failing. Self-described as a “perpetual optimist,” Dr. Kleber brought hope and humanity into the equation, and made leaps and bounds in the field during his forty years of working with those struggling from substance use disorder.
Dr. Kleber’s Legacy and Accomplishments
Dr. Herbert Kleber was so much more than a Google doodle. At the time when he first began working with addicts as a volunteer inmate psychiatrist for the United States Public Health Service in 1964, substance abuse treatment was almost entirely ineffective, with many of those imprisoned for substance-related offenses relapsing quickly after being released. He is credited for leading the fight against drug-related stigmas, and was one of the first psychiatrists to begin utilizing medication-assisted treatment with methadone and a holistic approach. He conducted a plethora of research at Yale University which caught the attention of President George H.W. Bush, who appointed him the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. After joining the department of psychiatry at Columbia University with his wife at the time, Marian Fischman, the pair were at the forefront of creating the National Policy Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. While at Columbia University, Kleber spent 20 years studying how drug treatment impacts drugs like opiates and opioids.
His Lasting Impact on the Field of Substance Abuse
While statistics and numbers may never be able to reflect the amount of lives that have been touched by Dr. Kleber’s research and fight for the destigmatization, he was instrumental in the reframing of how substance abuse research and treatment was viewed as a discipline and how it impacted the lives of those struggling with addiction. Over the course of the five decades he dedicated to the pursuit of holistic and humane substance abuse treatment without shame, Kleber mentored countless professionals and authored even more articles and books stressing the importance of research and the road to recovery. While he may no longer be with us, Dr. Herbert Kleber’s life work continues to propel us into the future of substance abuse treatment, manifesting in the small but significant changes in the number of people engaged in positive treatment and long-term recovery. Just like Kleber, we look forward to a future where shame and stigma against those struggle with addiction will no longer exist, and wake everyday with perpetual optimism.