By Alison Knopf
I spent hours visiting with Robert Newman, MD, beloved methadone advocate, over the past 30 years. He gave me my first tour of a large opioid treatment program (OTP). He taught me priceless lessons about the value of integrity, and even though he was not a journalist but a physician, he understood journalism better than most reporters and medical writers. When he died this summer, five weeks after getting hit by a car and not recovering, the field lost “a great fighter on behalf of patients and treatment,” in the words of Mark Parrino, MPA, president of the American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD).
Dr. Newman was the founding director of the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel, a position he held from 2001 until his retirement in 2014. As assistant commissioner of health for New York City, he established the city’s first methadone program in the early 1970s. As president and chief executive officer of Beth Israel Medical Center, he led the center through its most profound period of growth and expansion in the 1980s and 1990s. He was founding president and chief executive officer of Continuum Health Partners in 1997, the parent company for the partnership between Beth Israel, St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals, Long Island College Hospital and the NY Eye and Ear Infirmary. He retired as its president emeritus in 2001, and went on to be founding director of the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel, a position which he held until he retired in 2014.
Tony Newman, media director for the Drug Policy Alliance, and Bob’s nephew, said “his greatest passion was helping people who struggled with drugs.” He noted that his uncle was “simultaneously the leading advocate for methadone (in the United States and globally) and the leading critic of the methadone treatment industry.”
Dr. Newman’s family fled the Holocaust. He leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Seiko, and two children, Seiji and Hana. The last time I saw him was at the AATOD conference in New York City last spring, where he was as charming and generous as ever.