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James West, MD, pioneering addiction physician, dies at 98

July 26, 2012
by Gary Enos
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 Addiction Professional has learned that James W. West, MD, a former medical director of the Betty Ford Center and a longtime advocate of quality improvement initiatives in the addiction treatment field, died July 24 in California at age 98.

West carries an impressive legacy in the research and treatment communities, having served in various capacities until age 93, when he retired from a post as the Betty Ford Center’s physician director of the intensive outpatient program. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers’ (NAATP’s) annual award for exemplary quality improvement efforts in the treatment field bears West’s name.

“In many ways, Jim is as important to the history and traditions of the Betty Ford Center as Betty Ford herself,” center president and CEO John Schwarzlose said in a statement from the renowned treatment facility. “He is an icon in the recovery community.”

A surgeon who served on the team that performed the first human kidney transplant in 1950, West established the Illinois State Medical Society Panel for the Impaired Physician after having engaged in extensive study of the substance use disorder subspecialty.

A longtime member of the Betty Ford Center’s board of directors, West authored several publications in surgery and in substance use disorders, including the book The Betty Ford Center Book of Answers. He also created the popular DVD “Addiction, Treatment, Recovery: Questions and Answers.”

West, a strong supporter of the 12-Step model for recovery, said in a 2007 interview that a significant change in perspectives on addiction over the past several decades has been the public’s greater acceptance of addiction as a chronic and complex disease. He suggested that the next important message to impart publicly was to continue communicating that addiction is treatable.