“We don’t have an opioid crisis,” says Danielle Tarino, a former public health advisor for the federal government. “We have an addiction crisis.”
What does she mean? As deadly and devastating as it is, the opioid epidemic will one day subside, Tarino says, but there will be another drug, another national obsession, to take its place. In her 2018 Capstone thesis for Georgetown’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, she explored the complex, multifaceted problems that drugs, addiction, and the drug trade present to law enforcement, health workers, and others.
Now she will continue that work as a Visiting Scholar at the Georgetown University Medical Center’s Center for Clinical Bioethics, where she will be researching strategic and ethical questions in counternarcotics intelligence.
“United States drug control policy and the ‘War on Drugs’ policy have not had a positive impact on American society,” she wrote in her Capstone. They have not reduced supply or demand and have overburdened courts, taxed law enforcement, and criminalized addicts, more than 20 million of whom lack the treatment they need.
“The drug user as a stakeholder group is not acknowledged across the counternarcotics intelligence literature,” Tarino continued. And while the behavior of this group has long been studied by scientists and academics, it remains poorly understood by policymakers and the intelligence community.
For seven years, Tarino was a public health advisor at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. When joining the agency, she was the youngest member of her team, and she went on to sit on multiple councils and committees on Mobile Health (mHealth) and work on consumer engagement and youth recovery issues.
Her interest in these issues, and her passion for them, is personal as well. While a student at Rutgers, a drug problem that started in high school worsened and she was forced to confront what had become an addiction. She moved into the Rutgers Recovery House, one of the nation’s few on-campus programs that enables students with drug and alcohol problems to receive special housing and critical support while they remain in school.
Her life changed quickly and dramatically. (“At light speed,” as she put it in a 2016 interview.)
“I am grateful to be in recovery from a substance use disorder,” Tarino says. “Without my difficult past, I would not be the person I am today.”
Recently, Tarino accepted a job as director of regulatory affairs for a technology startup. Her years working for SAMHSA have made her well-versed in regulatory issues, so the job is a good fit.
For now, she will be working in the private sector and continuing do academic research on drug policy. But that could change in the future.
“I deeply enjoyed my time in the public sector,” Tarino said. “And I know one day I’ll go back.”