COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.

Get the latest information from CDC ( | NIH Resources | NIDA Resources

Drugs & Health Blog

A Personal Story of Sorrow and Hope: The Jacob P. Waletzky Award

Photo courtesy of the Waletzky family.

Jeremy Waletzky, M.D.

Every year since 2003, NIDA has honored a young career scientist with the Society for Neuroscience Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award for Innovative Research in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. This award would not be possible without the generosity of the Waletzky family, who, in memory of their son Jacob, wanted to recognize research contributions in this area. We have asked his father, Dr. Jeremy Waletzky, to share some thoughts about their family’s experience with the disease of addiction.

My son Jacob, age 29, graduated from Yale, and at Columbia University he finished his Master of Fine Arts in writing fiction (stories and novels). Jacob won a literary prize for his work. Ironically, the prize was established to honor the memory of a former student who died from a heroin overdose. I remember telling Jacob, “You better not follow in his footsteps!”

Jacob had everything going for him. But for more than five years, he was plagued by a speedball (cocaine and heroin) addiction.

Jacob completed a four-week inpatient program at Hazelden Addiction Center and was drug-free for five months. He was proud of his sobriety.

That all ended May 20, 2001—the worst day of my life. A call from Jacob's girlfriend: “Dr. Waletzky, I've got some horrible news. Jacob is dead.” I heard myself saying, “Maybe he's just asleep and he’ll wake up.” She said, “No, he's dead. I'm waiting for the medical examiner.”

I got on the next plane to New York, and when I arrived, Jacob was lying on the floor of his apartment covered by an old blanket. I didn't lift it. I didn't want to see his dead face.

The night before the memorial service, 30 of Jacob's friends were invited to attend a dinner we hosted. That evening, seven friends claimed him as their best friend. More than 400 people attended his service.

Jacob's mother and I wanted to do something positive to commemorate his life. I knew that if there had been a treatment that worked, Jacob would have used it. He’d had several treatments that helped some—but he was still dead.

I’m a psychiatrist and an expert in using medication for people who are depressed or anxious. I think we might improve treatment for drug abuse with neuroscience: the scientific study of nerves, and especially how nerves affect learning and behavior.

We decided to establish an award in Jacob's name, in hopes it would make more people aware of addiction research. In 2003, the Society for Neuroscience began to give out the award every year to a young scientist who has already made important discoveries that improve our understanding of drug addiction.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, has invited the award winner to speak at the Society of Neuroscience each year. When she introduces the winner, Nora shows Jacob’s photograph to the audience on big screens. I always start to cry.

In a dream one night, Jacob appeared to me and said everything would be all right. As time has passed, I can focus less on the day he died and celebrate his birthday instead. I know that the award has helped me accept his death, because something useful has come from the tragic end to his life.

Get more information on the Jacob P. Waletzky Award from the Society for Neuroscience website.

Learn how to talk with your parents (or another adult you trust) about drug use.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Jacob may have made bad choices but his helped many today
soooooo cooolllll!!!!!!!
I don't quite understand how he is being treated as a hero. He decided to take the drugs, knowing full well that he may become addicted. It was his choice to take those drugs, and after he made his choice, he ended up dying.
I think you are missing the point. The point is we can learn something from another's tragedy. Let's hope you never have to walk in his parents shoes.
That was a great reply to that guy.
It's nice that they put his poor decisions to good use- giving out an award with his tragic background story attached to it to any young scientist that discovers valuable information about addiction surely inspires many to not take the dangerous road of addiction.
Jacob's story is very sad and it is a terrible way for a family to lose such a promising young person. I hope that the award and the research that comes out of it do help experts develop new solutions to the deadly problem of addiction. Many people believe addiction is just a lack of willpower but that is not the case. shows how addiction is actually a complex disease.
Hey this story is somewhat sad. I still dont see whats wrong he wanted to take drugs and thats his choice.
Dont get fulled I knew him in rl. And he wasn't that smart he really did talk about taking drugs and I told him "how could, you did all of this just to end it here?" He never answered my question, but now i know where it ended up at.
Captain Dan, you're full of it. I also new him. Also, you must not be the isn't so smart...since you "fulled" (sp* fooled) into thinking that this is about making yourself feel good, by putting someone down. His father is doing a gracious thing to preserve his son's memory. And if his story helps just one person realize they can't beat the disease of addiction.
*knew ..
This is a sad story however many people can learn from the choices that were made
Wow. I love this story and how it encouraged people to help with drug abuse, etc., but it's still so sad that he lost his son and has to see his face every time they announce a winner.
I think it is sad that someone would make a negative comment about a family who is taking their tragedy and using it to help others not go down that same path. I work with addicts and this is a lifetime road they walk and yes, it was their choice however, addiction becomes more than a simple choice after the physiological changes occur in the brain from addiction...that is not an excuse its fact! These people were in no way trying to make their son a hero, they are trying to prevent another tragedy for another family. God bless this family for what they are doing to help others!
Its remarkable what this family is doing to help others. Its great that they were able to stay strong and now provide help for those is his situation.
He seems like he was a great person. It's a shame that this epidemic has taken yet another soul. This family is so generous f or what they have done to help others, even after they lost so much. Thank you for sharing this story.
I think that Jacob could have had a really good life because he was on the path to success, but addiction took over and drastically changed him. I can't imagine the sorrow that Jacob's family endured and how sad his life ended up.
I see that it is hard to stop being addicted to a drug. but before you have taken it you should've know that will be some repercussions to using drugs.
I think Jacob tried really hard to get away from drugs but just wasn't able to power through. This story is incredibly sad and inspiring some what by showing you can get through stuff from when he was sober.

Add new comment

Current state: Approved
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.