Dr. Herbert Kleber: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Dr. Herbert Kleber

Screengrab via The Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Dr. Herbert Kleber pictured in March 2014.

Dr. Herbert Kleber is the famed psychiatrist who is featured in the Google Doodle on October 1. He is hailed for his pioneering work in the field of addiction treatment, and he discovered new methods to treat individuals with heroin, cocaine, prescription, alcohol, or marijuana problems. October 1st would have been the 23rd anniversary of Kleber’s election to the National Academy of Medicine.

“During his 50-year career, Dr. Kleber authored hundreds of articles, wrote important books, and mentored numerous other medical professionals in the field of addiction treatment,” Google states. “A self-described ‘perpetual optimist,’ Dr. Kleber changed the landscape of addiction treatment, allowing patients to be diagnosed and treated rather than shamed—and saving countless lives in the process.”

Here’s what you need to know about Dr. Herbert Kleber:


1. Kleber’s Father Encouraged Him to Study Medicine From an Early Age

THS 2011 – Herbert Kleber – Traitements de substitution aux opiacésSESSION PLENIERE — THEMATIQUE ADDICTIONS Traitements de substitution aux opiacés : terminables ou interminables ? Herbert KLEBER (New York)2011-12-07T04:28:35.000Z

Kleber was born on June 19, 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother raised bonds, while his father ran a family luggage business called “Kleber Trunk and Bag.” The business specialized in manufacturing soldiers’ footlockers during World War II. Kleber’s father had trained to be a pharmacist earlier his life, and he encouraged his son to take up medicine from an early age.

According to the Center on Addiction, Kleber’s father pushed for him to attend Dartmouth College so he could study pre-med. Much to his father’s chagrin, however, Kleber questioned his career path during his sophomore year, and considered switching over to study literature and philosophy instead.

Kleber’s father urged him to continue studying medicine for another year before officially changing paths. Ultimately, a psychology class inspired Kleber to remain pre-med, and he graduated from Dartmouth in 1956. Kleber then enrolled in Jefferson Medical College, which is based out of Philadelphia. Whilst there, he was frequently teased by peers and faculty members for his desire to study psychology over “real medicine.”


2. Kleber Volunteered for the Public Health Service In 1964 & Began to Study Addiction Treatment

BlogTalkRadio program with Herbert Kleber, MD- Tuesday, March 25, 20142014-03-04T19:27:14.000Z

Kleber completed his residency at Yale University in 1964, during which time he volunteered for the Public Health Service. He expected to be sent to the National Institute of Health, given his experience as a researcher, but he was eventually sent to the Public Health Service Prison Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The hospital was specifically designed to serve patients with substance abuse issues, and its mission was to “understand the hows and whys of drug addiction, rehabilitate persons addicted to drugs completely, and find a permanent cure.”

It’s during this time that Kleber is introduced to addiction treatment. He not only familiarized himself with the field, but he determined that most of the contemporary approaches “were not very effective and that new approaches to treatment were desperately needed.” He also discovered that 90 percent of patients relapse within three months of their treatment. 

Kleber was hesitant to enter the field of addiction treatment at first, but he felt that strides needed to be made. “The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to treat addiction,” he said during a 2015 oral history. “Once you had been at Lexington, you were a marked man. Addicts who wanted help, doctors who wanted someone to refer to, parents worried about their children… Finally, after a year or so of that I said, ‘Well, maybe it’s fate.’”


3. Kleber Worked at the White House Office of National Drug Control Under President Bush

Crime File: Legalization of DrugsThis video was filmed in 1990. This Crime File video presents overview of the nature and effects of some drug legalization in Holland; followed by an examination of arguments for and against drug legalization as presented by panelists Ethan Nadelmann, assistant professor at Princeton University, and Herbert Kleber, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Crime File was a series of videos released between 1984 and 1990. They reflect the state of research and the criminal justice system at the time they were produced. Crime File was produced by the Police Foundation under a grant from that National Institute of Justice. (Opinions or points of view expressed represent the speaker and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any product or manufacturer discussed is presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.)2018-12-18T14:32:21.000Z

Kleber joined the Yale Psychiatry staff in 1966, and began to make notable strides in the field of addiction treatment. He described his method as “evidence-based treatment,” and saw addiction as a medical condition rather than a moral shortcoming. He stressed the importance of research, according to Google, and felt that recovering patients should have access to medication and therapeutic communities.

Kleber founded the Drug Dependence Unit at Yale University in 1968, where he would reside for the next two decades. He stepped down in 1989, when President George H. Bush named him the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. During his tenure, Kleber focused on prevention programs, as well as increasing the education and treatment of addiction.

New York Times reports that Kleber left the position after two and a half years. He was frustrated that most of the money that was earmarked for the nation’s “war on drugs” was being given to law enforcement and not to treatment. “It reminds me of that cartoon,” he said upon resigning. “This king is slamming his fist on the table, saying, ‘If all my horses and all my men can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, then what I need is more horses and more men.’”


4. Dr. Herbert Kleber Co-Founded the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse in 1992

THS11 Herbert KLEBER et Robert BOOTH "Medical Marijuana and legalization"Plenary session : "About medical marijuana and legalization in some states of the US" Herbert KLEBER: "Medical marijuana: myths and reality" Robert BOOTH: "Medical marijuana and legalization in Colorado: notes from the field" Session plénière: A propos de l'expérience du cannabis thérapeutique et de la légalisation de la marijuana dans certains Etats des USA Modération : Amine BENYAMINA (Villejuif) Cannabis thérapeutique : mythes et réalités : Herbert KLEBER (New York) Cannabis thérapeutique et légalisation dans le Colorado : observations de terrain : Robert BOOTH (Denver) Mardi 8 octobre 2013 THS11 http://www.ths-biarritz.com2013-10-09T22:28:00.000Z

Kleber continued to push for addiction treatment that was accessible to the masses. He partnered up with Joseph A. Califano, Jr. to create the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in 1992. Califano was the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and he felt that Kleber was “a drug expert with impeccable credentials.” Today, the organization is simply known as the Center on Addiction.

Kleber then partnered with his second wife, Dr. Marian W. Fischman, to establish the Division on Substance Abuse at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. It was here that he helped develop medications and techniques to treat addiction, as well as different psycho-social approaches. The Division on Substance Abuse has since become one of the largest research programs on substance abuse in the country.

Kleber had his greatest honor bestowed upon him in 1996. On October 1, he was elected to be a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. Five years later, he was added to the board of directors of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.


5. Dr. Herbert Kleber Died of a Heart Attack While Vacationing With His Family

Kleber died of a heart attack on October 5, 2018, when he was vacationing with his family in Greece. He was 84 years old. Kleber married three times during his lifetime, with the first being to his college sweetheart Joan Fox in 1956. They had three children together before divorcing in 1986. Kleber went on to marry Dr. Marian Fischman, and they worked alongside each other until her death in 2001. Kleber met his third and final wife, Anne Burlock Lawver, in 2004.

Even after his death, Kleber continues to be hailed as a pioneer in the field of addiction treatment. “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 at Columbia University Medical Center. “Things were actually tested. There were placebo control trials. He wasn’t the only one, but he was among the first to give credibility to the field.”

Joseph A. Califano, Jr. issued a statement after Kleber’s death, and he credited him with saving thousands of lives. “His legacy will be the trained generations of professionals who will carry on his work and the thousands of lives that have been saved,” Califano wrote.

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