Allan Cohen’s career choice was narrowed on an early spring day in the late fifties. During tryouts, a baseball took a “bad hop” and struck him, rendering him sufficiently incompetent to have a spot on Harvard’s intercollegiate team. A fantasized path to professional baseball gave way to an aspiring nuclear chemist—but not for long. With a brief stop in, he settled in the Social Relations Department, a cross-disciplinary program populated both by “jocks” and some of the world’s leading social scientists. He remained at Harvard for his doctorate and worked with luminaries such as Erik Erikson, David McClelland, Talcott Parsons, Jerome Bruner, and some well-regarded new faculty — Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.
Yet another career twist occurred when Allan was invited to participate in experimental trials with the investigational drugs psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD. Trained as a “psychedelic guide,” the remainder of his graduate career took him to experimental communities in Mexico, New York, and Massachusetts, discussing issues of psychology and consciousness with contemporary figures ranging from Huxley, Ken Kesey, Miles Davis, and Houston Smith. Simultaneously, he completed requirements for a Ph.D. in both Social and Clinical Psychology, finishing up work as a field assessment officer for the U.S. Peace Corps, running a study of new technology for the blind and teaching undergraduates in both normal and abnormal personality courses.
Having clearly seen the limitations of both the drug experience and the psychedelic culture, Allan’s questionable background looked like an asset to the University of California (Berkeley) Counseling Center; and he was hired for a 2-year stint as therapist/counselor for Berkeley students and faculty during the days of the “free speech movement” and the high times of the “flower children.”
Because of his unique personal experience and the credibility of a Harvard doctorate, Allan was in increasing demand as a consultant and lecturer, so much so that he left U.C.’s counseling center for a 7-year tour as consultant, part-time professor/college administrator, lecturer, and “talking head” on radio and television. “Gigs” during that time were as diverse as lecturing with Pete Townshend (of the “Who” rock group), consulting with the government of Venezuela, becoming the first dean of students at the John F. Kennedy University (in Orinda, California), and lecturing to the officers at India’s version of West Point. Along the way, he earned a private pilot’s license and a lifetime adult education teaching credential, and also served as faculty at the Pacific School of Religion, the Humanistic Psychology Institute, and U.C. San Francisco.
The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs awarded Dr. Cohen research funds to study effective interventions for committed San Francisco drug users. Another portent of a PIRE future involved the establishment of the JFKU Institute for Drug Abuse Education, through which he began his work in program evaluation. Much of his work and writing involved intervention strategies for early and late adolescents. So, when the opportunity came to join a colleague (Dr. Eric Schaps) in studying the state-of-the-art of school-based prevention programs, he jumped in. That first grant required a non-profit platform.
As researcher-evaluator, clinician, professor, media spokesman, administrator, editor and theoretician, he applies innovative principles and techniques to the field, including many applications to family and parent-based prevention. He pioneered the "alternatives to drugs" concept, applying them for parents in the groundbreaking 1975 book (with Peter Marin): UNDERSTANDING DRUG USE: An Adult's Guide to Drugs and the Young.
Dr. Cohen and Dr. Schaps founded Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) in 1974, opening its first office in San Francisco with a contract with the Pennsylvania Governor’s Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse (Revenue: $200K). As Project Director, Dr. Cohen led PIRE to receive its first NIDA grant – the Pyramid Project (Revenue: $500K). When the Chevy Chase, Maryland office opened in 1976, Dr. Cohen founded the Prevention Materials Institute to distribute materials and information produced by PIRE (Revenue: $900K). As Executive Director of PIRE in 1977, Dr. Cohen opened the first Berkeley, CA office to house the California Connection Addicts Aftercare Services Project (Revenue: $1.3 Million). Dr. Cohen became PIRE’s first President in 1983 (Revenue: $1.6 Million) following the win of the NIAAA award for the Prevention Research Center (PRC). He served in that role until 1999. Under his leadership, PIRE started the Just Say No Foundation in 1986 and organized the Walk Against Drugs in which 3 million people participated. In 1987, PIRE created the Chapel Hill, NC office and hired Harold Holder to become the Scientific Director of PRC (Revenue $4.5 Million). In 1993, Dr. Cohen led the proposal which won the contract for the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention for the National Center for the Advancement of Prevention (Revenue: $12.5 Million).
Dr. Cohen has been recognized with lifetime achievement awards by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), the National Association of State Drug and Alcohol Directors (NASADAD) and by S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions). He has served on the Board of Directors of several charitable organizations, and as consultant and adviser to over 200 national and international institutions, and as manager of over 50 substance abuse prevention projects. He currently serves as editorial reviewer for the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs the Journal of Primary Prevention, of which he had been Associate Editor.
Dr. Cohen brings over 30 years of experience in prevention-related technical assistance, training and technology transfer. Dr. Cohen has personally provided technical assistance and technology transfer services to 35 states and to more than 20 State Agencies. Dr. Cohen was responsible for the design and early management of PIRE’s evaluation for CSAP’s National Training System, generating innovative recommendations for maximizing technology transfer effectiveness and helping create evaluation methodologies (“open-systems evaluation” and “outcome engineering”) that show substantial promise for application to CSAP’s CAPTs. He was key in strategizing and building PIRE’s ongoing PREVENT effort for the U.S. Navy, the nation’s largest substance abuse prevention training project. Recently, he acted as corporate supervisor for large-scale contracts from the U.S. Department of Education, including the Character Education and Civic Engagement Technical Assistance Center (CETAC). He has done considerable work consulting with media production, including a role as technical advisor for ABC’s Dangerous Minds series and HBO’s The Sopranos program.
Dr. Cohen helped prepare two key monographs for CSAP (on the selection of prevention strategies and on community mobilization strategies) and currently supervises technology transfer evaluation studies on prevention/intervention efforts involving drug courts, school-based prevention curricula, substance abuse community coalitions, autism problems and faith-based prevention efforts. Dr. Cohen was the recipient of a Lifetime Career Achievement Award by NASADAD and in 1999 a Career Achievement Award from CSAP for his work with parents and substance abuse prevention. He continues to seek out new opportunities and partnerships for PIRE, both in familiar domains and areas new to the Institute.