It is with great sadness that we recognize the passing of Dr. Beny Primm, a stalwart leader in our national response to HIV from the earliest days of the epidemic. Dr. Primm died on October 16, after a long battle with kidney disease. His legacy in both substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS is profound and will continue to have a positive impact on our responses to both of these issues for years to come.
A veteran and physician, in 1969 Dr. Primm helped to establish the Addiction Research Treatment Corporation (ARTC), now known as START Treatment & Recovery Centers, in New York City. ARTC was one of the country’s largest nonprofit, minority-serving, community-based agencies providing substance abuse treatment and other primary medical care and behavioral health services. Over a decade later, as the AIDS epidemic began to unfold, Dr. Primm was quick to see the connection between this new disease and substance abuse. His work at ARTC expanded to include HIV/AIDS services and he became a vocal and respected advocate for HIV prevention and treatment initiatives for people with substance use disorders.
We are fortunate that Dr. Primm readily shared his expertise on both substance use and HIV with numerous colleagues, including those in the federal government. He advised several administrations on drug policy issues beginning with the Nixon administration and served as the first Director of the Office of Treatment Improvement (OTI) at the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), the precursor to today’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Dr. Primm also served on President Reagan’s Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic, which issued a 1988 report containing 500 recommendations outlining a comprehensive national response. Subsequently, he served on the CDC-HRSA Advisory Committee on HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STD Prevention and Treatment as well as the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. He is widely credited, along with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, as the architect of the 1998 Congressional Minority AIDS Initiative, which has allocated millions of dollars across the nation to help community-based organizations, research institutions, healthcare organizations, and state and local health departments address HIV and AIDS within the minority populations they serve.
Among his many HIV community leadership roles, Dr. Primm notably served as Chair Emeritus of the National Minority AIDS Council as well as Vice Chair of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS for almost two decades. He also was an advisor and mentor to many in the HIV field, which has helped establish his lasting legacy.
With great appreciation for all of his contributions to improving the health and well being of our nation’s citizens, we offer our sincere condolences to Dr. Primm’s family and many friends and colleagues.