A controversy has erupted in the Harvard medical community over Cambridge Hospital's decision to invite U.S. Drug Czar Barry R. McCaffrey to deliver a memorial award lecture at an upcoming conference on addictions.
In response to the hospital's choice, Associate Professor of Psychiatry Lester Grinspoon, a well-known addiction researcher, has severed his ties with Cambridge Hospital's Norman E. Zinberg Center for Addiction Studies.
The uproar stems from a basic philosophical disagreement between McCaffrey, who has pursued hard-line measures as Drug Czar, and many of the physicians affiliated with the center who advocate more liberal measures such as legalization of medical marijuana and needle exchanges.
The memorial lecture is named for Zinberg, who died in 1990. This year's lecture will be delivered on March 7-8 by McCaffrey and Senator George McGovern at Cambridge Hospital's upcoming continuing education conference "Treating the Addiction: What Works," which is sponsored through Harvard Medical School.
"We wanted to start with a review of the national picture. McCaffrey is our number one national policy person. We asked him to speak on what works on the national level," says Howard J. Shaffer, associate professor of psychology in the department of Psychiatry.
Also in response to the hospital's decision, the L.A. Times ran an editorial by Stanton Peele, another expert in addictions, entitled "Don't Reward What Doesn't Work," which expressed outrage at Harvard's decision to give this year's Zinberg award to McCaffrey.
Grinspoon, Peele and other medical leaders object to the hospital's decision because of McCaffrey's confrontational attitude toward the medical community.
"I consider General McCaffrey to be doing more harm than good. His position on medical marijuana is ill-informed and merely parrots the government's position," Grinspoon says.
After Arizona and California both passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, McCaffrey threatened to investigate and revoke the medical licenses of doctors who began to prescribe marijuana to their patients.
"McCaffrey directs a national drug policy that involves more anti-medical and inhumane measures than his opposition to medical marijuana," Peele says in his editorial.
At the heart of this debate is the question of how McCaffrey's views mesh with Zinberg's.
Zinberg, a well-known Harvard psychiatrist and a national leader in the field of addictions, argued that people's response to narcotics depends on their expectations and environment.
Conference organizers contend that Zinberg prized differing, even controversial, views and would have advocated hearing even the ideas of McCaffrey.
"When Dr. Zinberg was around, he would invite people who would differ with his opinions to educate people. It's part of the process of a good education," says a spokesperson for Harvard Medical School.
But Archie Brodsky, a research associate in psychiatry and law, says opponents of the decision contend that Zinberg fought those with ill-informed views on addictions--a group in which they include McCaffrey.