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Articles - Various general
Written by Arnold Trebach   
Sunday, 02 April 1989 00:00




November 30, 1921 - April 2, 1989

by Arnold Trebach

Norman Zinberg was above all else a decent, caring human being who made people feel good about being themselves. He was also, of course, an eminent psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School professor, drug abuse treatment expert, author of numerous books and articles, and public advocate of drug policy reform.

It is remarkable that so many people he met in these professional capacities report such similar personal experiences: he treated me with kindness and helped bring out the best that was in me; he-gave me courage to try new ventures that I would not have attempted without his encouragement. On my part, I remember a few years ago when Kevin Zeese and I were on the verge of setting up the Drug Policy Foundation. While we felt the organization was needed to combat the drugwar hysteria developing in America, we had doubts about its practicality and about taking on so much more work. Norman told us that the Foundation indeed was greatly needed, that it would succeed, that we could do it, and that he would help by joining the advisory board. When I pointed out that my family thought that I was crazy for volunteering to take on more work when I was already so busy, he replied that his family often said the same thing to him about all of his projects. We went forward with thP Fmindation and Norman Zinberg was never too busy to fulfil every request we made of him to help in its work.

My vision of him was reflected in a touching service to his memory at The Memorial Church, Harvard University, on April 24. As the church bells tolled noon on a brilliant, chilly spring day in Cambridge, Woodward Wickham, a former student and friend, welcomed the guests who filled the vast church. Mr. Wickham pointed out that Norman might well have objected to the formal nature of the impressive event, attended by so many dignitaries and replete with praise of the departed. Norman always made light of his accomplishments and never lorded it over people. Yet, he had a puckish sense of humour, Woody Wickham said, and was certainly laughing indulgently at these proceedings; he would of course forgive us of them.

Dr. Dorothy Shore Zinberg agreed with that assessment and filled out the picture of her late husband. In the three weeks since he had died, she told of how she had received hundreds of letters, many of which commenced, "You don't know me, but Norman was helping me with.." Those recent projects had an immense range: an appointment to the presidential AIDS commission, advising a local judge on drug policy, speaking in a backyard to a group of Cambridge youth on sex, drugs, and ethics, working with congressional committee on drug policy. These were only a few of the activities Dr. Norman Zinberg was involved in during the last months of his life.

Recently, Norman was somewhat disturbed that he was being perceived as a moderate on drug policy, Dorothy revealed. She observed that part of him delighted in acting as Peck's Bad Boy, a mildly delinquent outsider. Another part knew that he was very much an insider.

In that dichotomy may per. haps be found some of the secrets to this kind man's being. He loved being respectable and perversely he loved being controversial. Taken together, all of these qualities produced a wonderfully refreshing human being. Add to that the fact that he loved devilment and fun and parties and all can see why in the words of his Provincetown neighbour, Robert Motherwell, we shall not see his like pass this way soon again.

Arnold Trebach PhD., is President of the Drug Policy Foundation, Washington D.C. USA



Norman Zinberg & Ed Brecher

by Ernest Drucker

Even before our first issue of the IJDP is in print, two friends w1919 Untitledply involved in the movement that gave birth to the Journal are gone. For over 20 years Norman Zinberg and Ed Brecher spoke out forcefully and persuasively for a position of compassion and intelligence on drug policy. Both were always there for those who turned to them for their wealth of experience and their encyclopedic knowledge of the field; for their fresh ideas; and for their political and moral support of an often unpopular cause. They are not easily replaced. - ^

Norman Zinberg was one of the few American psychiatrists who combined vast clinical experience in drug treatment with scholarly analysis and research directed toward drug policy. His many books, articles and presentations (more numerous than any contemporary) informed and expanded the dialogue about drug use in America and helped define the field. His conception of "controlled use" is crucial to differentiating between the realities of destructive personal drug use and the effects of our inchoate public policies. His two most recent papers include a clinically astute discussion of the differences in the course and treatment for cocaine, heroin and alcohol addiction, and a thoughtful analysis of the value of certain elements of AA's twelve step philosophy, and the trend towards their integration into professional drug treatment approaches. Both should be closely studied by all with an interest in this field. His last book, 'Drug, Set and Setting' will surely serve as a text for a new generation of clinicians and researchers. With his death we have lost a good friend and a fine scholar.

Ed Brecher was also a scholar (of science and public health) and an award winning journalist prior to his authoring 'Licit and Illicit Drugs' (in 1972) under the sponsorship of the Consumers Union. This book presented, for the first time in America, a dispassionate, comprehensive and accurate overview of patterns of drug use and the crucial details of the drugs that were being "consumed". He provided convincing support for methadone treatment of heroin addiction and advocated for the legalization of marijuana, arguing that it was far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. The historical period in which this book appeared was that of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Use which called for the decriminalization of drug use. Brecher's book was an important vehicle for making such a proposal possible, if not (then as now) wholly respectable.

His last article (published by Arnold Trebach in his Drug Policy Newsletter) is entitled "Needles and the Conscience of a Nation". Brecher tells the fascinating story of how malaria appeared in Nebraska, Chicago, San Francisco and New York City in the winter of 1940. Malaria in the winter? When there "wasn't a live mosquito within a thousand miles"? Telling his story with characteristic bravura (in the Readers Digest of February, 1941) as "The Case of the Missing Mosquitoes" - Brecher explained that addicts sharing needles were the cause of the spread of malaria across the seasons. Predictably, U.S. drug enforcement officials of that period clamped down on access to needles.

Thirty-three state legislatures passed "needle laws" (which still stand today) rnaking it a crime to possess needles and syringes and prohibiting physicians from prescribing sterile injection equipment to addicts. Meanwhile, drug dealers, Searing a loss of sales due to the spread of malaria, added quinine to their heroin and thus aborted an epidemic of malaria. Continued sharing did, of course, spread other infectious agents - endocarditis, syphilis, and hepatitis B among them. With his customary penchant for self criticism, Brecher chides himself for failing to add "what should have been obvious to everyone - that far worse diseases than malaria might spread in the same way".

Now that that prophecy had come true (with AIDS) Brecher felt compelled to remind us once again of "a century-old scientific rule that is also a moral precept... don't try to protect some people from contagious disease and leave others unprotected, for the infection will, sooner or later, spread from the unprotected to the protected". While it may already be too late, in many areas, to stop the spread of AIDS through repeal of needle laws, there is still time for other areas and other blood borne infections. Brecher points out that, for the future, "repeal of needle laws will be an act of conscience, a recognition that addicts are human beings". Ed Brecher's tolerance and compassion for those who are addicted infused his judgement and energized his advocacy for drug policy reform. While he lived, he helped to "pierce the veil of moral righteousness that still colors drug policy". He will be missed by us all.

Emest Drucker PhD., is Executive Director, Drug Treatment Services, Monteflore Medlcal Centre,

New York, USA.


Our valuable member Arnold Trebach has been with us since Monday, 20 December 2010.

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