Lives of the fellows

Abdol Hamid Ghodse

b.30 April 1938 d.27 December 2012
MD Iran(1965) DPM(1974) PhD(1976) MRCPsych(1980) FRCPsych(1986) MRCP(1988) FRCP(1992) MFPHM(1996) FRCP Edin(1997) FFPHM(1997)

Abdol Hamid Ghodse was a psychiatrist whose legacy is to found in the policies on substance misuse and addiction that have now been adopted worldwide. He was professor of psychiatry and addictive behaviour at the University of London. Born in Iran, he was the eldest son of Abdul Rahmin Ghods, a civil servant, and his wife, Batool née Daneshmand, who was a headmistress. One of nine children, he was educated at the Dr Ghani School in Sabzevar and the Darolfonoon School in Tehran. He studied medicine at Istfahan and Tabriz Universities and the Pahlavi and Shanaz Hospital in Tabriz.

Qualifying in 1965, he decided to travel to the UK to continue his studies. He had first visited the country as a 19 year old boy scout, travelling by coach from Iran. At that time he had become friendly with a Welsh family and when he later returned he stayed with them in Neath, South Wales, while he did house jobs at the Morgannwg Hospital in Bridgend from 1968 to 1970. In an interview, much later in life, he remarked how touched he was that, when he returned, the local paper ‘welcomed my arrival with a photograph and a column about my travels’. He began his training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital where he was strongly influenced by Linford Rees [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] the professor of psychological medicine, whose family he had become acquainted with in Wales. He trained at Barts and the Hackney hospitals from 1970 to 1971 and then moved to the Bethlem and Maudsley hospitals and the Institute of Psychiatry. Working in the Institute’s Addiction Research Unit (ARU), his mentor was Griffith Edwards, who was the UK’s first professor of addiction psychiatry.

During his time at the ARU, he devised and conducted a huge study of London casualty departments, interviewing over 1400 accident and emergeny department staff, including nurses, doctors and ambulance personnel on how they responded to drug addicts presenting with overdoses and other problems. Findings were published as ‘Drug related problems in London accident and emergency departments. A twelve month study’ by Ghodse and five others (Lancet, 1981, 2, 859-62). One result of this study was the establishment of the City Roads drugs project to which staff in casualty departments could refer patients for community based detoxification programmes. Another good outcome was that the study provided an analysis of GP’s prescribing habits, which provided useful ammunition for the campaign to reduce prescriptions of barbiturates. A book published in 1984 on drug misuse acknowledged that ‘of most significance in influencing government to pay some attention to the issue was the research carried out by Hamid Ghodse’, Jamieson et al, Dealing with drug misuse - intervention in the city (London, Tavistock, 1984).

In 1978 he joined the staff of St George’s, St Thomas’ and Tooting Bec hospitals as a senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist and, nine years later in 1987, was appointed professor of psychiatry and addictive behaviour at St George’s Hospital Medical School and honorary consultant psychiatrist. He also became director of substance misuse services to Wandsworth, Merton and Sutton Health Authorities and director of the South West Thames regional drug problem team. Appointed director of the International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s in 2004, he stayed in post until his death. He was later to note that, when he started as a consultant at St George’s, ‘the addiction team had half my time, a few sessions of a medical assistant, who was paid by St Thomas’, a nurse and a part time secretary. When I left...addiction services comprised a university department of addictive behaviour with over 200 staff, 85 of them in the academic unit....’

It was during his time at St Georges that he developed a quick non-invasive and reliable method for measuring drug dependence by measuring the pupils of both eyes. With four others he published a description of the process as ‘The opiate addiction test: a clinical evaluation of a quick test for physical dependence on opiate drugs’ (Bri J Clin Pharmacol, 1995, 39, 257-9).

His work became well-known outside the UK and, in 1992, he was elected one of the 13 members of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and was the first scientist to become its president – a position he held 11 times. He tirelessly endeavoured to try to convince governments of the need to ensure adequate access to controlled drugs for legitimate reasons and addressed various national governments, the United Nations and the World Health Assembly on controversial drug-related issues. At the INCB he was regarded as a skilled diplomat and greatly enjoyed the work, being referred to by one colleague as ‘the elder statesman par excellence.’

Active at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, he held many important posts. Chair of the substance misuse section between 1990 and 1994, on the Court of Electors from 1993 to 1995, vice president from 2000 to 2002, he was also on the civil honours committee and its chair in 2011. Establishing the Board of International Affairs in 2000, he persuaded the college to fund the journal International psychiatry and was its editor up until his death.

He was on numerous national and official bodies, including at the Department of Health (DOH) and the NHS Ombudsman. On managing to persuade the DOH to introduce substance misuse training into the undergraduate curriculum, he pointed out that ‘it is one of the worst health problems in this country, which doctors will encounter many times each day’.

A prolific author, he published over 350 books and scientific papers. Among his most influential works were Addiction at work: tackling drug use and misuse in the workplace (Aldershot, Gower, 2005); International drug control in the 21st century (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2008) and the fourth edition of his Drugs and addictive behaviour: a guide to treatment was renamed in his honour Ghodse’s Drugs and addictive behaviour: a guide to treatment (Cambridge, University Press, 2010). Two years before he died he produced International perpectives on mental health (London, RCPsych, 2011).

Outside medicine he enjoyed reading, writing, cycling, and travelling. A convivial man, he loved entertaining and, a colleague remarked, regarded his friends as an extension of his family. Acutely aware of his own origins he always looked out for those less fortunate than himself. He was a member of CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

In 1973 he married Barbara née Bailin, a graduate in medicine from Cambridge who practiced for a while and then became a hospital manager. She occasionally helped him in his work, being sometimes credited as a co-author. When he died she recalled that he was against the legalisation of drugs, thinking that all addicts should be given the chance to be drug-free. He felt that all his patients should be treated with respect and so made a point of always looking dapper in a suit and tie for consultations even when it became the fashion to dress down when treating addicts. Barbara survived him when he died from adenocarcinoma of the lung, together with their children, Hossein, Nassrin and Rez, and grandchildren Leila, Kiyan, Jonah and Taraneh.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 1069; The Times Higher Education; BJPsych Bull; Addiction 2007 102 197-205; Wikipedia - all accessed 4 December 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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