Sunday, April 12, 2009

Obama Administration Names A. Thomas McLellan Deputy ONDCP Director

Appointment of Treatment Research Institute Co-Founder and Noted Drug/Alcohol Expert Signals National Shift in Addiction Policy

Philadelphia, PA - April 10, 2009: The Obama/Biden Administration has named A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D. to the post of Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. McLellan is one of the nation's leading drug and alcohol experts.

McLellan got his start in the 1980s as a scientist with the Veterans Administration and University of Pennsylvania where he led development of the Addiction Severity Index and Treatment Services Review, two measurement instruments premised on the then-novel view that addiction was a multi-dimensional condition, with impairments in other life functions that had to be concurrently addressed for treatment to be effective. Eventually, the premise came to be embraced, with the instruments becoming widely used to measure and improve the effectiveness of many forms of treatment.

In 2000, McLellan and three other experts authored a report in JAMA pointing out the similarities between addiction and commonly recognized, chronically relapsing medical diseases like hypertension, type II diabetes and asthma, arguing that like these other illnesses, serious addictive disorders cannot be cured but can be effectively managed. The implications proved to be significant. Today, most experts refer to addiction as a chronic illness and call for longer-term care strategies patterned after medical models.

A firm believer in the transformative power of science, in 1992 McLellan co-founded the non-profit TRI as a translational center that would adapt and engineer promising scientific findings into useful products and services that could be broadly used throughout the field. Over the next seventeen years, McLellan assembled a team of researchers and entered into intertwining collaborations with universities, major treatment and prevention groups, and legal groups. TRI became known for practical models of continuing care and monitoring; criminal justice strategies as an alternative to jailing drug-involved offenders; revitalizing the nation's public system of addiction treatment; engaging doctors and other primary care providers; and helping parents learn skills to protect children from drugs and alcohol.

Beginning in 2006, McLellan recruited policy experts to TRI to help state and local governments promote quality improvement by revamping their purchasing, regulatory, and other administrative structures.

"We're sorry to lose Tom McLellan to higher office, but we're not surprised an innovation-minded Administration would recruit someone like him for national drug policy," said Constance Pechura, Ph.D., TRI's second-in-command who will assume leadership of TRI. "With his presence, the Administration has created a formidable drug control team predisposed to evidence and policies that 'work,'" she said.

"Tom McLellan has been a leader in advancing the science of addiction treatment and improving access to effective care," said Carolyn Asbury, Senior Consultant to the Dana Foundation and Chair of the TRI Board of Directors. "He has pioneered the translation of research into more effective clinical practices that have helped to achieve better outcomes for individuals and their families. No one is better equipped to help transform the nation's response to its drug problems," she said.

ONDCP was established in 1988 to advise the President and Vice President on a drug control program for the nation, coordinating the activities of multiple federal agencies toward that end. With Gil Kerlikowske, the President's pick for ONDCP Director, McLellan's appointment signals a shift to science-based treatment and prevention strategies - including what McLellan calls "a long-overdue national look at our prison policies; collaborative strategies among the prevention, treatment, criminal justice, healthcare and education fields, and continued modernization of specialty treatment and prevention centers."


The Treatment Research Institute is a non-profit research and development organization specializing in science-driven reform of policy and practice in substance use and abuse. For more information contact Bonnie Catone, TRI Director of Communications, at or visit the TRI website at

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