Indiana’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement leads efforts to combat the opioid crisis
Douglas Huntsinger, ’04, remembers the precise moment in 2003 that launched his career in public service. It was a simple gesture by Mike Alley, then a member of Indiana State University’s Board of Trustees. Huntsinger recalls, “(Mike) tossed me a business card after a meeting and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing this summer, but there is this guy moving back from DC (and) you should go volunteer for him.’”
Huntsinger, who was serving as student member of the Board of Trustees, took Alley’s advice and began volunteering for the campaign to elect Mitch Daniels as Indiana governor. “Off and on throughout the school year, I came to Indianapolis and volunteered for Mitch, and that led to a spot on the campaign.”
He has been involved at the state level ever since, quickly ascending from working the front desk in the governor’s office, to travel aide, to policy director overseeing 13 state agencies. He also spent four years as the executive producer of the Indiana State Fair.
Since 2020, Huntsinger has served as Indiana’s executive director for drug prevention, treatment and enforcement. As Indiana’s “Drug Czar,” he leads the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis and help save lives of Hoosiers battling substance abuse.
Huntsinger knows there is a lot of work to do. Overdose rates and deaths have increased, but positive changes are happening. The state works with federal and local partners and providers to fund and build infrastructure systems to move people into treatment – and most importantly, into recovery.
“It is a daunting task, but there are people all across the state working to solve this issue. From Lake County to Clark County, there are some truly amazing individuals running recovery cafes and helping deliver services,” he said.
As the impact of the pandemic begins to recede, Huntsinger is gearing up for a push. “We are, as a team, really excited to get back out on the road,” he said. “And as facilities are starting to reopen, we are beginning to see a lot of that collaboration that was happening prior to Covid come back.”
When Huntsinger travels around Indiana, he hears personal stories of Hoosiers who are either fighting or have beaten their addiction. “That is why we are here,” he says. “That’s why we are doing this work.”
Huntsinger credits Indiana State with helping him discover his passion for public service. As a high school student and aspiring funeral director growing up in Frankton, IN, Indiana State wasn’t at the top of his list. In fact, it wasn’t on his list at all.
That changed when Huntsinger’s family was traveling past Terre Haute on Interstate 70 and decided, on a whim, to check out the university.
“I fell in love with Indiana State from the moment we drove onto campus,” he said. “It was the best choice that I have ever made. It was the people, it was the place, and it was the opportunity the University provided.”
Huntsinger’s career trajectory changed when he got involved with student government. From there, he received an appointment as student member to the University’s Board of Trustees.
“Working with those campus leaders, and being appointed to the Board of Trustees my sophomore year, was instrumental for me in seeing how you can make a difference,” he said. “That’s what led me to change my major to political science, and then ultimately changing my career.”
Huntsinger describes his time at Indiana State as “the ultimate experiential learning experience.” During his time with the Board of Trustees, he got a glimpse into the inner workings of governance. “I saw firsthand how shared governance works in an organization … (and saw) seasoned professionals do that work.”
The skills he developed at Indiana State, and particularly from the political science faculty, have had a lasting impact on how he approaches issues.
“The political science department, for me, is where I developed a lot of the critical thinking skills,” Huntsinger said, adding he was challenged to approach issues from all angles, and defend his perspective. “They weren’t a group of people who just let you give an answer. You had to know why that was the answer, or why you felt that way.”
The experiences Huntsinger had on campus helped shape his career. Huntsinger encourages current and future Sycamores to find a cause they believe in and make it their career. “My best advice is to work hard and believe in the work you are doing.”