The Treatment Research Institute (TRI) has announced this morning that co-founder and longtime leader A. Thomas McLellan, PhD, will be stepping down as CEO as of Sept. 1, with researcher and clinician David R. Gastfriend, MD, taking over as chief executive. In an interview with Addiction Professional, Gastfriend said he decided to leave his post as vice president of scientific communication at pharmaceutical manufacturer Alkermes, Inc., for the TRI position only on the condition that McLellan stay on at TRI as chairman of the board of directors.
“Tom was a mentor to me early in my career,” says Gastfriend. “I've been a disciple of his for over 20 years. We stayed in close touch even when I went into industry.”
Gastfriend says he was attracted to the unique mission and structure of the Philadelphia-based TRI, a research operation that is not tied to an academic department and where the body of research is directly related to informing professional practice and public policy. “We are able to integrate science and policy in a way that doesn't happen anywhere else,” he says.
Gastfriend's work in the field spans diverse roles, from generating a software tool for the American Society of Addiction Medicine's (ASAM's) Patient Placement Criteria to spearheading research at Alkermes over the past decade as the company's injectable formulation of naltrexone (Vivitrol) made inroads in the market.
He believes he is arriving at TRI at a time when federal healthcare legislation and expanded scientific knowledge could allow for a convergence of addiction treatment, healthcare and funding systems. “I believe we are at a watershed moment for changing how we conceive of treatment,” Gastfriend says.
McLellan, who has become one of the most prominent national voices for redesigning addiction treatment systems, co-founded TRI in 1992 and has spent nearly all of the past 22 years there—outside of a stint as deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Gastfriend believes McLellan will play a critical role in advancing strategic thinking for a TRI board that mainly features thought leadership in the scientific community. Donor development for the organization will be among the board's anticipated priorities.
“It's good to have a board that isn't necessarily all scientists,” Gastfriend says.
TRI's research efforts have touched nearly every sector involved in the provision or management of substance use services. Its scientists developed the ubiquitous Addiction Severity Index (ASI) assessment instrument. It recently was involved in a partnership that brought forth an addictions course targeting second-year medical students. And its ongoing work in tracking the impact of the federal insurance parity law for behavioral health offers one example of its ability to use data to broaden understanding of a topic outside the realm of clinical research.
McLellan said in a news release announcing the change in leadership, “Dr. Gastfriend represents the passing of the torch to a new generation of leadership, which America needs if it is to deal with the waves of public health challenges that our field is facing, such as marijuana reform, the prescription painkiller epidemic and large-scale drug-offender prison release.”
Another ongoing project at TRI involves work toward developing a consumer guide to treatment facilities that is based on evidence of outcome and that transcends programs' own marketing and self-report. This likely will take the form of a web-based portal where consumers and families can observe evaluations of program outcomes.
“At present there is no way for a family member seeking treatment to go to a single place to find out who's providing care and how they're doing,” Gastfriend says. “There is no Consumer Reports edition for this. There's no U.S. News ranking.”