By Alison Knopf
When Stewart B. Leavitt, PhD, died in February at age 70, the methadone maintenance field lost an important advocate. The founding editor when AT Forum was first published in 1992, Dr. Leavitt followed his vision—one of open, targeted communication—for the next 15 years. “Our goal is to serve as reporters of what has happened, what is happening today, and what might happen to further your success in treating drug addiction.”
Dr. Leavitt carefully targeted his writings. Noting that “few publications have specifically addressed your needs, aired your concerns, or served as a platform for your accomplishments,” he kept his articles brief and pointed—a “quick read” for his audience of busy professionals, some of whom were being treated for opioid addiction.
In following his vision, he filled an important need. Patients urgently require a voice to speak for them. Dr. Leavitt provided this voice. Although he spoke from a scientific perspective, he never forgot the human aspects of addiction. Among his chief concerns: the possibility that patients might not be adequately treated.
Mark Parrino, MA, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD) first met Dr. Leavitt through AT Forum, and came to know him well over the years. “I had tremendous respect for his scientific knowledge and writing,” Mr. Parrino recalled. “We had frequent discussions about topics of interest and coherent policy development.”
He noted that Dr. Leavitt was the science writer on the first Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report on methadone mortality, released in 2003. “In my opinion, it was the best written and most clearly informed of the three SAMHSA reports on this topic.”
Dr. Leavitt also wrote eloquently about the use of electrocardiography in methadone-maintained patients, said Mr. Parrino. “He had an incisive intellect and a very keen focus.”
Even people who didn’t know Dr. Leavitt personally were grateful for his support in the field of methadone maintenance treatment. “He gave a voice to patients who had made a commitment to use medication-assisted treatment as the basis of their recovery,” said Ed Higgins, director of JSAS Healthcare in Neptune, New Jersey. “He will be missed.”
Herman Joseph, PhD, knew Dr. Leavitt well. “He was one of the most insightful people I’ve met,” he said. “He was also a great writer—it was always a pleasure reading his articles.”
And H. Westley Clark, MD, JD, former director of SAMSHA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, credited Dr. Leavitt for “being interested in the science of addiction.” Dr. Leavitt “worked with CSAT in promoting an understanding of methadone as a therapy, and in addressing stigma and discrimination associated with opioid dependence.”
Dr. Clark added: “Stew was perhaps a voice in the wilderness, in an area few writers were willing to explore. His passing is regrettable, and his voice—in issues involving both addiction and pain—will be missed.”
Ironically, Dr. Leavitt himself, who was active in the pain field after leaving AT Forum, was to become one of the patients whose rights to pain control he had tried to protect. He had been ill for some time before he died of cancer. His widow, Diane, told us about his struggles to get pain medication. “If he had to go through such difficulties, what must it be like for others?” she asked. Obtaining enough medication for only one month, having to start the refill process two weeks ahead of time, always worrying about running out—this was the reality, one that’s likely to get worse for others, as federal and state governments crack down on the legitimate use of opioids for chronic pain.
Although his work was an all-important part of his life, there was another side to Dr. Leavitt: painting and photography were among his passions. Examples on his website reflect his range of moods—from whimsical amusement to a passion for nature to relaxation in the wilderness: https://www.facebook.com/stewart.leavitt/media_set?set=a.10202536664512134.1073741826.1061408808&type=1&l=0f37bf6123. Accessed March 28, 2016.
Donations in Dr. Leavitt’s name may be made to the hospice where he received his palliative care: JourneyCare Foundation, 2050 Claire Court, Glenview, IL 60025. http://journeycare.org/. Accessed March 28, 2016.