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Controversy Follows Drug Czar Invitation

By Matthew W. Granade

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.

"To have a reward named after someone who made that kind of contribution to a person whose role was to create repressive and suppressive drug policies dishonors the memory of Norman Zinberg and runs counter to the award," Brodsky says.

"Norman Zinberg would have rolled over in his grave if he had heard [McCaffrey will give the Zinberg lecture]," Grinspoon says.

Adding fuel to opponents' flames is the wording of the lecture's title: "The Annual Norman E. Zinberg Memorial Lecture Award." The flyer lists McCaffrey and McGovern and "the 1997 Recipients."

Grinspoon and others said that in asking McCaffrey to give this lecture, the Medical School and Cambridge Hospital are bestowing an award--and tacit approval--on him.

Conference organizers disagree. "He's not being honored. He's been asked to present a lecture, to speak on the nation's drug policy," says a spokesperson for Harvard Medical School.

In a recent speech at the Kennedy School of Government, McCaffrey softened his stance, particularly on medical marijuana and suggested he may reconsider his hard-line approach.

The issue of medical marijuana "ought to be looked at and will be looked at," McCaffrey said in a speech at the Institute of Politics (IOP) earlier this month.

Still, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition plans to protest during McCaffrey's upcoming lecture, as they did during his speech at the IOP, according to Coalition President Bill H. Downing.

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