Dr. Herbert D. Kleber was one of the most influential figures in transforming how the nation addresses addiction. One year after his passing, at the age of 84, we honor his memory by retracing his life and career, from an aspiring psychologist to a founder of CASA Columbia (now Center on Addiction) and beyond.
Today, on the Google home page, you will see that the Google Doodle honors Dr. Kleber, commemorating his life and immeasurable accomplishments to the field of medicine, along with his dedication to helping those impacted by addiction.
Read the story behind what inspired guest artist Jarrett J. Krosoczka to create today’s Doodle honoring Dr. Herbert Kleber.
Read thoughts on Dr. Kleber and his legacy from his widow, Anne Burlock Lawver.
Herbert David Kleber is born in Pittsburgh, PA on June 19. As a child, his interests include reading, following the Pittsburgh Pirates and running on his high school’s track team. His father, a one-time aspiring doctor himself, encourages Kleber from a young age to pursue a career in medicine.
1952 – 1956
Kleber attends Dartmouth College. Although he initially intends to study pre-med per his father’s wishes, he questions this path during the first semester of his sophomore year, finding philosophy and literature to be more interesting. Disappointed by this news, his father advises Kleber to continue studying medicine for another year before officially changing paths. A psychology class inspires Kleber to remain pre-med and ultimately become a psychiatrist.
Kleber graduates from Dartmouth College and marries his high school sweetheart, Joan Fox. The pair are married for 30 years and have three children before ultimately divorcing.
Kleber also enrolls in Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, PA. Throughout medical school, Kleber is frequently teased by peers and faculty for his desire to study psychology over “real medicine.”
Kleber completes his psychiatric residency at Yale University and volunteers for the Public Health Service. Due to his experience doing research, he expects to be sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) but is ultimately assigned to the Public Health Service Prison Hospital at Lexington, Kentucky. The Prison Hospital first opened in 1935 to specifically serve patients with substance use disorders. As noted by Jessica Williams for The Institute for Research, Education & Training in Addictions, “Its mission was threefold: to understand the hows and whys of drug addiction, rehabilitate persons addicted to drugs completely, and find a permanent cure.”
This experience was Kleber’s first introduction to addiction medicine. He also learns that the current approaches to addiction treatment “were not very effective and that new approaches to treatment were desperately needed.”
Dr. Kleber joins the Yale Psychiatry faculty. Initially, Kleber is not interested in pursuing a career in addiction medicine, but colleagues and patients continue to ask him for his expertise on topics related to substance use. He ultimately decides to follow the path he is being directed toward and applies for a grant from NIH to conduct research into modalities for preventing and treating addiction.
The NIH awards Kleber a grant to implement all of the major treatment components he feels might be successful. This includes developing a therapeutic community, methadone maintenance program, adolescence program and community outreach program in New Haven, CT. Funds from this grant also allow Kleber to found the Drug Dependence Unit at Yale University.
Kleber leaves Yale after being named Deputy Director for Demand Reduction at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under its first director, William Bennet. During his time in D.C., Kleber champions programs focused on prevention, education and treatment, and supporting the use of medications in addiction treatment.
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Carter Administration and President Lyndon Johnson’s chief assistant for domestic affairs, asks Dr. Kleber to join him in founding The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (today known as Center on Addiction). In his memoir, Inside: A Public and Private Life, Califano wrote about his need to “enlist a drug expert with impeccable credentials to be my right arm.”
Along with his second wife, Dr. Marian W. Fischman, Dr. Kleber also establishes the Division on Substance Abuse at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. There, he and his colleagues help develop and improve both medications currently used to treat substance use and the psychosocial approaches that accompany them. The department ultimately became known one of the largest and most successful research programs on substance abuse in the country.
Kleber is elected to be a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.
Kleber joins the board of directors of Partnership for Drug-Free Kids where he provides guidance on how to translate science messaging for the media. (In January 2019, Center on Addiction and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids merged. Learn more.).
Following the death of his second wife, Dr. Kleber meets and marries Anne Lawver in 2004.
Dr. Kleber dies at the age of 84 in Santorini, Greece while traveling with his wife and children. In his lifetime, Dr. Kleber authored more than 250 papers. He was the co-Editor of the American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. He received numerous prestigious awards, two honorary degrees, is listed as one of the “Best Doctors in America “and “Best Doctors in New York.” He also made an immeasurable impact on the lives of thousands affected by addiction.
Click here to read thoughts and memories about Dr. Kleber from our colleagues at Center on Addiction.
- “Herbert D. Kleber, Pioneer in Addiction Treatment, Dies at 84” The New York Times (www.nytimes.com)
- “Herbert Kleber Obituary” Legacy (www.legacy.com)
- “A life in addiction psychiatry: An Interview with Dr. Herb Kleber” (www.williamwhitepapers.com)
- “In Memoriam: Dr. Herbert D. Kleber” Columbia University Department of Psychiatry (www.columbiapsychiatry.org)
- “In Memoriam: Herbert D. Kleber” American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (www.nature.com)
- “The Reminiscences of Herbert Kleber.” Columbia Center for Oral History Research (ccohr.incite.columbia.edu)