Psychologist, policy maker and Stanford professor Keith Humphreys was named an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the late Queen Elizabeth II before her death.
Humphreys, an American, received the honor for his work in addiction prevention policy in the UK, particularly for helping to enact mandatory abstinence programs to treat those arrested for alcohol-related crimes.
The Order of the British Empire was instituted during World War I by King George V. Only members of the UK or the Commonwealth can receive membership into the Order, so non-British honorees such as Humphreys receive the title as “honorary.” The UK government announced the award Sept. 23 — about two weeks after Queen Elizabeth’s passing. Humphreys was inducted alongside four other Americans, including former Congressman George Holding (R-N.C.). 18 people were inducted in total.
Humphreys told The Daily that he began studying the psychology of drug abuse accidentally — he took an undergraduate research assistant job on a study about addiction primarily because it paid more than his job at Wendy’s.
“I said, ‘I’ve always been interested in that,’ which wasn’t true,” Humphreys said. “I would’ve said anything for $4.40 an hour.”
It was there that he discovered the passion for working with patients that has carried him through his career.
“You see everything touching about the human experience,” Humphreys said. “You see love and hope and redemption, struggles with control, the search for meaning, death, reconciliation. Everything.”
After completing a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Humphreys moved to the Bay Area to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where he saw patients as a psychologist and researched addiction care strategies. Through the VA he began working in national policy, eventually leading a team during the Bush administration to revamp addiction care guidelines for veterans nationwide.
Humphreys said he sees policy as a way to multiply his impact on public health.
“I like treating patients, but you’re only touching one person at a time,” Humphreys said. “Regulations have these enormous impacts on people’s lives. If you can get a law that reduces violence against women by 5%, that’s better than counseling 50,000 women for domestic violence that you could have avoided.”
Humphreys’ work landed him in the White House contributing to national addiction care policy in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Bush and Obama administrations. In more recent years, he has worked to popularize methods of enforcing drug- and alcohol-related policies that focus on keeping offenders sober, such as the 24/7 Sobriety program. Adapted from a South Dakota initiative, Humphreys helped turn the policy, which monitored offenders’ sobriety and imposed modest penalties for drinking, into a federal program. It has since been adopted by several states.
He additionally helped the British Parliament start a similar program in the UK. This was the beginning of what Humphreys considers his “second life,” where he worked to improve British addiction policy and prevent crimes caused by addiction.
In the past decade, Humphreys, a native of West Virginia, worked with then West Virginia State Senator Daniel Foster to stock first responders with opioid-reversal drug Naloxone, which set the standard nationwide for its easy availability.
“He would fly here almost at the drop of a hat,” Foster said. “It’s totally unheard of for people to do that. And it’s just because of his knowledge and dedication to the issue.”
In recent years, Humphreys founded the Stanford Network on Addiction Policy alongside Foster to connect lawmakers with researchers studying addiction so that they can create what he described as better-informed policy to combat drug addiction in their communities.
Chelsea Shover, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who conducted postdoctoral research with Humphreys, said, “It’s on you as a scientist to be very clear about why the thing you’re presenting is important. And the strength of the evidence.”
“I think it’s a real testament to his ability to do that, that a lot of politicians all over the political spectrum would come to him for advice,” Shover added.
Reflecting on his career, Humphreys is proud to have used his clinical knowledge to make concrete changes.
“There’s a lot of people who found recovery, or avoided addiction entirely, because of the work that I did,” Humphreys said. “And that’s what my career is about.”