California voters rejected a ballot measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana. I was watching CNN’s report on how the measure had fared. Reporter Ted Rowlands was in Oakland, standing next to a woman who presumably supported the initiative; she was holding a pan of baklava, a Greek dessert, that was laced with pot. An interesting visual.

So I thought I would mention today what some foundations have funded related to substance abuse prevention or treatment.


“Crusader against Substance Abuse Receives Institute of Medicine’s 2010 Lienhard Award,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) press release, Oct. 11.

Joe Califano Jr., founder (in 1992) and chair of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, received the 2010 Gustav O. Lienhard Award, which is funded by an RWJF endowment. Califano, a former U.S. secretary of health, education, and welfare, was honored “for his leadership in catalyzing federal action to curb smoking and his broader efforts to reduce the toll of addiction and substance abuse, as well as for his contributions to improving public health in general,” the release announced. CASA’s “research promotes understanding of substance abuse as a chronic disease, a critical step to gaining insurance coverage for treatment and overcoming its stigma.” The IOM award comes with a $40,000 prize, which Califano is donating to CASA.

Califano is author of several books, including High Society—How Substance Abuse Ravages America and What to Do about It.

Over the years, the Lienhard Award has honored experts in a variety of health fields; winners include Jack Wennberg, Bob Brook, Ken Kizer, Phil Lee, Lester Breslow, and many others. In other words, award recipients are not limited to those in the field of substance abuse prevention.

Past RWJF National Program

Funding for the RWJF’s Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) was authorized through 2009. Read some results of research funded by the SAPRP here.

Open Society Foundations’ Efforts

Well-known investor and philanthropist George Soros established the Open Society Foundations, beginning in 1984. Open Society has foundations, offices, institutes, and initiatives in a number of countries around the world, including Afghanistan, and in the American cities of Baltimore, New York City, and Washington.

“Drug Control, Criminalization, and Global Health: A Conversation with UN Special Rapporteur Anand Grover,” Open Society Foundations and Human Rights Watch, audio discussion, Oct. 26. (Daniel Wolfe, who is director, international harm reduction development program, at the Open Society Foundations, is also a speaker.)

According to the foundations’ website, Grover speaks about a United Nations (UN) report he wrote in which he found “that the current international drug control regime is damaging the health and human rights of people who use drugs.”

In the report, released in August, he makes a statement that may generate controversy in some quarters: Broad implementation of harm reduction initiatives “and of decriminalization of certain laws governing drug control” would “demonstrably” improve the health and welfare of drug users as well as the general public. (An example of a harm reduction technique is needle exchange programs for injecting drug users.)

The above audio discussion falls under the International Harm Reduction Development Program of the foundations’ Public Health Program. (Yes, it is a program within a program.)

■Here is another Open Society report on substance abuse:

From the Mountaintops: What the World Can Learn from Drug Policy Change in Switzerland, Joanne Csete of Columbia University, Oct 2010. Although regarded as conservative, the Swiss have approved low-threshold methadone programs, needle exchange, and even a “very small” heroin-assisted therapy program, the report says. However, in 2008 the Swiss public rejected the “decriminalization of cannabis” (marijuana). One lesson learned from the Swiss drug policy experience was “the importance of scientifically rigorous investigation of new programs and of letting science be a basis for policymaking.” This report falls under the Open Society Foundations’ Global Drug Policy Program, which works with the harm reduction program mentioned above.

■The Open Society Institute (OSI)-Baltimore, a private operating foundation that is part of the Open Society Foundations, has an initiative called Tackling Drug Addiction, which “aims to increase the access of uninsured drug-dependent citizens to comprehensive services that respond to their individual needs,” according to the foundations’ website. To do this, the initiative “is helping Baltimore City [Maryland] to develop a sustainable, high-quality treatment system that uses research-based clinical practices and that benefits from interagency coordination.” Also, the initiative seeks to show policy makers and the public “that sound treatment practices and policies will save lives, reduce crime, rebuild families and communities, and use public funds wisely.” OSI-Baltimore maintains that “the success of this approach may have national significance as the public seeks alternatives to the nation’s ineffective ‘war on drugs.’” OSI-Baltimore now has funders in addition to George Soros; it also seeks funders. For details, click here.

Here are four other foundations that fund in the area of substance abuse prevention/treatment:

Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, based in Los Angeles. Note that this foundation “does not encourage unsolicited proposals”; it describes itself as a “proactive” grant maker.

Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, located in Ohio. This foundation funds in Cincinnati and certain counties of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

MetLife Foundation, located in New York City. Under its health program, this corporate funder “continues to address the issue of substance abuse among young people” through a public information campaign, according to its Web site.

New York State Health Foundation, located in New York City. This “conversion” foundation, which funds in New York State, has a funding priority area on integrating mental health/substance use services.

Related resources:

“Legalize-Marijuana Measure Loses in California,” David Crary and Lisa Leff, Associated Press, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 3. According to this article, voters in California did not approve Proposition 19, which would have allowed the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in that state. The reporters note that “every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor [of California] and all but a handful of leading politicians came out against it.” Medical marijuana is already legal in California.

“Marijuana to Blame for Increased Drug Use in 2009, Government Report Says,” Peter Maer, CBS News, Political Hotsheet blog, Sept.15. This article is about the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske (the Obama administration’s “drug czar”) says in the blog post that marijuana “’may have properties that have medicinal values that should be tested,” but that marijuana  is not medicine but “an entry drug.” Kerlikowske also discusses the California ballot initiative. The blog post notes that the administration “remains strongly opposed to legalization of marijuana.”

“Proposition 19: Legalize Marijuana in CA, Regulate and Tax,” semiofficial election results of California statewide general election, Nov. 2, 2010, on the website of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Results were updated Nov 4, 2010.

Watch the video posted on CNN’s This Just In blog on Nov. 3; it features CNN journalists Ted Rowlands (reporting from Oakland) and Anderson Cooper; as well as that baklava mentioned earlier.