William Pollin, 85; Led Institute on Drug Abuse

WILLIAM POLLIN (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

William Pollin, 85, the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who declared cigarette smoking was more addictive than using alcohol or heroin, died after a heart attack Jan. 25 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where he lived.

Dr. Pollin, a psychiatrist and analyst, decried the booming demand for cocaine and heroin in the early 1980s. Cocaine, he said is "the most seductive and powerfully reinforcing drug we know." In 1983, he told The Washington Post that middle-class marijuana and LSD users had moved on to heroin and increasing numbers were becoming addicted.

His opinion on drug dependency became politically relevant in 1986, when he conducted for the Senate Judiciary Committee a confidential study about whether Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, then awaiting Senate approval on his nomination to be chief justice, was dependent on the prescription drug Placidyl. Dr. Pollin based his study on Rehnquist's medical records and did not interview the justice, his physician or the pharmacist who filled the prescriptions.

Dr. Pollin would not say what was in the report, and two senators from opposite political parties differed on whether he said Rehnquist was addicted. A year ago, newly released FBI files said Rehnquist had grown so dependent on the sedative that he became delusional and tried to escape from a hospital in his pajamas when he stopped taking the drug in 1981.

As the NIDA director, Dr. Pollin was also a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service and assistant surgeon general. Previously, he had been chief of the NIDA's division of research and was research director of the White House Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention in 1974 and 1975.

He was born in Philadelphia and served in the Merchant Marine in the Pacific theater during World War II. He graduated from the City College of New York after the war, received a medical degree from Columbia University in 1952 and was trained as an analyst at the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute.

Dr. Pollin spent the years between 1951 and 1971 as a researcher, then as chief of the National Institute of Mental Health's section on psychiatry in the Laboratory of Clinical Science. He was chairman of an NIMH research subgroup and coordinator of NIMH's research programs on drug abuse before his White House appointment.

During the 1960s and 1970s, he contributed to a study of 14,000 pairs of twins who had served in the military, which found a genetic cause for schizophrenia.

"He was on the forefront of looking at schizophrenia as a biological disorder at a time when psychoanalysts were saying this was caused by bad mothers," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness. He accompanied Dr. Pollin on a trip to Moscow during the Cold War to investigate Soviet research into the disease. "He was also highly respected by his peers."

Dr. Pollin was one of the key researchers who helped change the medical view of smoking from that of an unhealthy habit to one of a diagnosable drug addiction. At NIDA, he emphasized family-oriented drug prevention programs.

His wife of 39 years, Marilyn Pollin, died in 1990.

Survivors include his wife of 15 years, Teresa Pollin, of Bethesda; two children from his first marriage, Dr. Joshua Pollin of Columbia and Dr. Laura Herzog of the Golan Heights, Israel; a stepson, Dr. Jonathan Amiel of New York; and seven grandchildren.

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