Tom McLellan, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and a leading addiction researcher, knows the tragedy of alcohol and other drug problems firsthand: a deep family history of addiction includes a son who overdosed last year at age 30, another son who is in recovery, and a wife who is recovering from a cocaine addiction, the New York Times reported Dec. 8.
McLellan, formerly the scientific director of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, took the job as second-in-command to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske only reluctantly. He said his son's death influenced his decision.
“I thought it was some kind of sign, you know,” he said. “I would never have done it. I loved all the people I've worked with, I loved my life. But I thought maybe there's a way where what I know plus what I feel could make a difference.”
McLellan's work is predicated on the idea that addiction is a chronic illness, and he and Kerlikowske have been drafting a new Obama administration antidrug strategy that is expected to shift more funding into treatment and prevention rather than law enforcement and interdiction. Kerlikowske has said he wants to triple the number of Americans receiving addiction treatment, for example.
“I think if Obama gave these two guys the spark, they would know how to turn it into a fire,” said Joseph Califano, chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
“We are going to get the money to do this,” said McLellan. “I can't tell you the amount or where it's coming from, but we're going to get it.”