Jack Fishman Dies at 83; Saved Many From Overdose
The Rockefeller University
Published: December 14, 2013
Dr. Jack Fishman, who helped develop naloxone, a powerful medication that has saved countless people from fatal overdoses of heroin and other narcotics, died on Dec. 7 at his home in Remsenburg, N.Y. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by his son Howard. No cause was given.
Finding drugs to counter the addictive and potentially fatal use of heroin, morphine and other narcotics was an area of increasing research in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While some solutions were found to be somewhat effective, they had strong and even dangerous side effects and could be addictive themselves.
One researcher, Harold Blumberg of Endo Laboratories on Long Island, concluded that a safer, more effective drug could be derived from a new synthesized form of morphine. At the time, Dr. Fishman was on staff at what was then called the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, but he also worked part time at a private pharmaceutical lab run by Mozes J. Lewenstein, a colleague of Dr. Blumberg’s. Dr. Fishman and Dr. Lewenstein helped figure out how to make the drug Dr. Blumberg had described.
Tests showed the drug, naloxone, to be far more powerful and to pose far fewer side effects than its predecessors.
In March 1961, Dr. Fishman and Dr. Lewenstein applied for one of the first patents for naloxone, with Dr. Lewenstein listed as the senior author. An early patent was also received by Sankyo, a Japanese company.
It took several years for the extent of the drug’s benefits to become clear. In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration approved using naloxone to treat overdoses, and it is now found in hospitals, emergency rooms and the supplies of some emergency medical response teams. In recent years it has proved effective at stopping overdoses of OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and other prescription drugs.
Naloxone, called an “opioid antagonist,” goes to the same place opioids go in the brain and puts up a shield, preventing them from shutting down respiratory and nervous system functions.
Several states have now made it legal for naloxone to be distributed by community support groups and local health clinics. Some groups distribute it directly to addicts so they can self-administer it if they fear an overdose.
“It really is a kind of miracle drug,” Greg Scott, a sociology professor at DePaul University and the research director for the Chicago Recovery Alliance, told The New York Times in 2010.
Born Jacob Fiszman on Sept. 30, 1930, in Krakow, Poland, Mr. Fishman was 8 when he fled the Nazi occupation with his parents. He spent much of his youth in Shanghai, where he attended a Jewish school before moving to the United States when he was 18. He studied chemistry at Yeshiva University and graduated in 1950. He received a master’s degree from Columbia in 1952 and a doctorate in chemistry in 1955 from Wayne State University in Detroit.
Dr. Fishman’s three previous marriages ended in divorce. In addition to Howard, his son from his first marriage, his survivors include his wife, Joy; three other sons, Neil, Leslie and Daniel, from his second marriage; a stepdaughter, Julie Stampler; 10 grandchildren; and a brother, Jerry.
Dr. Lewenstein died in 1966 and Dr. Blumberg in 1999.
Dr. Fishman also did prominent work in steroid research and the study of estrogen, including the role it can play in breast cancer. In 1977, after teaching at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and serving as director of the Institute for Steroid Research at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he became director of the biochemical endocrinology lab at Rockefeller University. He served until very recently as director of research at the Strang-Cornell Institute for Cancer Research.
In 1988, he became president of the Ivax Corporation, a pharmaceutical maker based in Miami. He has served on numerous boards and been a consultant to the World Health Organization and the National Science Foundation. He and Dr. Blumberg were given the John Scott Award for 1982. The award, one of the nation’s oldest scientific honors given by the city of Philadelphia, said naloxone was “now the treatment of choice in reversing narcotic effects.”