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Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 16.4 Supplement B (2005) 6-8

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Beny J. Primm, MD:

Pioneer Physician, Educator, and Advocate for People with Addictions and HIV/AIDS

Beny J. Primm, MD, is the founder and current director of the Addiction Research and Treatment Corporation (ARTC), a substance abuse treatment and research conglomerate based in New York City. Established in 1969, ARTC provides substance abuse and alcoholism treatment as well as comprehensive medical and social services to over three thousand people. Since 1983, he has also served as president of the Urban Resource Institute (URI), an affiliate of ARTC, which provides a wide array of non-addiction-related services including residences, vocational training, and jobs for battered women; a training center for developmentally disabled youth; and intermediate care facilities for developmentally disabled and mentally ill adults. Between the two, ARTC and URI employ over 600 people.

Dr. Primm is the grandson of a college-educated preacher and son of a schoolteacher and undertaker. As a child growing up in Williamson, West Virginia, Beny enjoyed make-believing he was a doctor while his brother, Gerome, played undertaker to the imaginary patients young Beny could not save. Despite his patient losses, he was determined to become a real physician one day. People who knew Beny in his youth could clearly see his destiny as a leader who would give service to his people and many others around the world. As we shall see, their prophecies came true.

Beny's mother, Willie Henrietta, a visionary woman, realized in the 1930s, that her boys would have a brighter future if they were educated amongst their White counterparts. The family moved to New York City where they settled in the Bronx, near Yankee Stadium, in a house overlooking the East River and the entrance to the George Washington Bridge. Beny attended DeWitt Clinton High School, a famous all-boys school that has produced many national leaders, Caucasian and African American. He attended St. Marks Methodist Church where, despite his relatively short stature, he was valued as a point guard in the basketball league.

After graduating from high school at age 16, this converted "city boy" entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he played varsity basketball and later became captain of the junior varsity basketball team. In 1946, he returned to [End Page 6] his boyhood state to attend West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), at that time, a historically Black institution. Beny was a well-rounded, social being who enjoyed his college days in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) while majoring in German. His flair for learning languages and his ability to connect with people of all walks of life would stand him in good stead later on.

After graduating from West Virginia State as a commissioned officer in the Army, Dr. Primm served in the 82nd Airborne Division as a platoon leader and battalion intelligence officer until his medical retirement as a 1st lieutenant. Using the GI bill to finance his graduate education, he began his medical studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where his college concentration in German came in handy. He ultimately earned his medical degree from the French-speaking University of Geneva in Switzerland, where he succeeded in learning French and medicine simultaneously. Imagine the stress involved in attending a medical school without knowing the language beforehand!

One of the first African Americans in New York to become boarded in anesthesiology by the American College of Anesthesiology, Dr. Primm's work in the pain management side of anesthesia evolved into a focus on the treatment of opiate dependence. In the early 1960s, this was a radical step because, at that time, the average physician did not want to have anything to do with treating people who were addicted to heroin.

Dr. Primm began...


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