Great interview on NPR while I was overseas… Joseph Califano, founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, talked about the failure of the American medical establishment to take addiction seriously as a disease.

He said something that made me breathe easier as a parent: that research shows if you can get a child to age 21 without substance-abuse problems, they’re basically home-free “for the rest of his or her life.” My kid is almost 13.

But he said something even more pointed. He compared addiction with AIDS: in the space of three years, he said, the medical and public-health establishments educated the country about the fact that AIDS was a disease that needed to be treated, and to do that, the public had to invest in finding solutions. And it happened.

Their failure to do that with addiction and substance abuse is, to me, the greatest mistake they’ve made—the greatest failure of medicine and public health. . . . When I was secretary of HEW [the Department of Health, Education and Welfare], I went after smoking. I started the anti-smoking campaign. Everybody said, “My God, it will never happen. It’s all smoke and no fire.” Look at the country today. If we get some leadership, we’ll have a real impact. And [addiction] is the country’s biggest disease, the biggest cause of cancer, strokes, accidents, murders, violence. We’ve got to do something about it.