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Homeward bound: An addiction specialist travels home to help

Few things tug at the heart quite like the thought of home. Whether it’s our birthplace, current address, or just somewhere we love, home is our haven.

Keith Humphreys, PhD, was born and raised in West Virginia. There he formed the beginnings of the skills that would help him become a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, an addiction researcher in the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and a senior drug policy adviser for the Obama White House in 2009-10.

For Humphreys, the pull of home is bittersweet. In the current issue of Stanford Medicine magazine Humphreys explains his affinity for West Virginia and why he felt compelled to return after he completed his work as a senior drug policy advisor:

Like many people who grew up in West Virginia, I retain loyalty to my home state as well as a desire to connect with other members of the hillbilly diaspora. I had learned from a previous issue of this magazine that, after earning his MD at Stanford, Dan [Foster] went on to become a surgeon and state legislator in West Virginia. I didn’t have to guess which public policy issue consumed most of Dan’s time: addiction. My home state leads the country in tobacco smoking and in fatal drug overdose. Meth labs dot the landscape, heroin traffickers do a thriving business in some cities and, in some impoverished towns, bars and liquor stores are among the few going concerns. The prevalence of addiction makes a mockery of our state motto, “Mountaineers are always free.”

Humphreys reached out to state Sen. Foster to see if he could apply the things he’d learned as a senior drug policy advisor to the addiction crisis in West Virginia. Sen. Foster responded, welcoming his offer of help. Humphreys was going home:

Returning to Charleston, the state capital, was richly nostalgic for me. I hadn’t been there since a state math contest in the ninth grade, and I still think of Charleston as “the big city” because it was the only place with more than 100,000 people I’d been to when I was growing up. I was comforted throughout my visit by the mountains all around.

Working with the legislature in West Virginia, Humphreys employed his knowledge of the policies had seen be effective in other states. These polices included equipping first responders with the overdose rescue drug naloxone, returning cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine to prescription-only status and better monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

As he worked to help West Virginia, Humphreys realized the state had given him something back: a chance to connect with home in a new way. "At a personal level, reconnecting with my home state has been one of the deepest satisfactions of recent years," he concludes.

Previously: Ties that heal: Stanford Medicine magazine examines relationshipsStanford addiction expert: “The country needs to spring into action” on heroin epidemic, Heroin: The national epidemic and Breaking Good: How to wipe out meth labs
Photo by Timothy Archibald

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