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In memoriam: Dr. Herbert D. Kleber

October 10, 2018

The Yale Department of Psychiatry mourns the loss of our dear friend, respected colleague, and alumnus of our Psychiatry Residency and faculty, Dr. Herbert D. Kleber. Dr. Kleber, known to all as “Herb,” recently and unexpectedly died at the age of 84, while vacationing with his family on the island of Santorini, in Greece. At the time of his death, Herb was Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University.

However, to those of us in the Department of Psychiatry, Herb will always be a Yalie at heart. After graduating from Dartmouth and Thomas Jefferson Medical School, Herb arrived at Yale in the mid-1960s for psychiatry training. Upon joining the Yale Psychiatry faculty in 1968, he founded and headed the Drug Dependence Unit at Yale University. Under his leadership, this Unit had a transformative local and national impact. Dr. George Heninger, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, remembers that Herb “brought addiction treatment out of the dark ages.” His Unit conducted groundbreaking research on the phenomenology and treatment of opiate, stimulant, cannabis, and alcohol abuse. It conducted the first clinical trial of clonidine, the first non-opiate treatment for opiate dependence. Herb and his team introduced opiate maintenance treatment, cognitive behavioral treatments, and other innovations to Connecticut. Along the way, Herb mentored the next generation of transformative leaders in the field of substance abuse research, beginning with the three musketeers (Bruce Rounsaville, Tom Kosten, Richard Schottenfeld) and followed by a long list of stars in the field including Stephanie O’Malley, Kathleen Carroll, Frank Gawin, and Rajita Sinha, among others.

In 1989, Herb left Yale for a position in the Bush White House, as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. In this role, Herb was tasked with framing the national strategy to reduce addiction through prevention and treatment. After Washington, Herb moved to Columbia University with his wife, the late Marian Fischman, PhD, who was a noted substance abuse investigator as well. At Columbia, Herb created the Division of Substance Abuse and developed it into one of the leading programs of its kind in the nation. Herb stepped down from his Columbia leadership position in 2016, marked by a wonderful festschrift attended by many Yale colleagues and friends. Herb continued his work and mentorship to the present, combining it with travel with his beloved wife, Anne Lawver, their children, and grandchildren.

Herb had a gift for innovation and impact at Yale that continued throughout his career. At Yale, he created the Addiction Prevention and Treatment (APT) Foundation, which still exists, to accelerate the delivery of substance abuse treatment and to enhance the substance abuse research mission. In 1992, while at Columbia, he co-founded and served as Executive Vice President for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) to advance national substance abuse policy. CASA also remains active. He was a prolific writer, with over 300 published papers and several books, including the American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. He built Yale and then Columbia into programs that vied with each other for the #1 ranking among the nation’s premier substance abuse programs. He took impish delight in pursuing important advances that challenged the prevailing wisdom. But most of all, he was an extremely supportive and generous colleague and mentor who derived great pleasure from the success of others.

Herb received numerous honors throughout his career including election to the National Academy of Medicine, then Institute of Medicine, in 1996. The Yale Department of Psychiatry awarded him our Distinguished Alumnae Award in 2017. Dr. Benjamin Bunney, chair emeritus of the Yale Department of Psychiatry, recalls Herb as “one of the all-time greats … the world has lost one of the great champions of the addicted.” And we have lost a great friend and colleague.

The funeral service for Dr. Kleber will be held at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 180 West 76th Street (Amsterdam Avenue), New York, New York 10023 on Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 12:30 PM.

This memorial was prepared by Kathleen Carroll, PhD, with input from Stephanie O’Malley, PhD and John Krystal, MD.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on October 10, 2018