Growing up in a high-crime neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., Thomas Browne saw firsthand the devastating effects of drug addiction, on both his friends and the community at large. This experience led Browne to dedicate his life and three-decade federal career to changing the way the U.S. and nations around the globe prevent and treat drug addiction, particularly among women and children.
As the deputy director of the Office of Anticrime Programs in the State Department’;s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Browne has implemented groundbreaking drug advocacy, treatment and prevention work in 70 vulnerable countries, including Afghanistan, Bolivia, Brazil, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru and South Africa.
“Thom is perhaps the world’s leading expert on treatment and prevention issues,” said William Brownfield, the assistant secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.
“He has convinced a lot of people that might be seen as drug warriors that we have important work to do in preventing drug abuse and treating the disease,” said Gil Kerlikowske, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Thom led these efforts before they were fashionable.”
Working closely with the Afghan government and international experts, Browne has helped the world’s largest cultivator of opium poppy build effective drug treatment capabilities. He has established 76 of the country’s 101 treatment facilities, enabling more than 15,000 people a year to gain access to treatment for the first time.
Browne’s work in Afghanistan also led him to identify and study an unprecedented problem with childhood addiction caused by exposure to opium smoking. His pioneering research resulted in the creation of prevention and treatment programs for young people, which colleagues noted is unheard of in a war zone.
“Thom has impacted thousands of young people in Afghanistan in the same way he has impacted thousands of young women around the globe with his emphasis on special drug treatment protocols,” said Michele Leonhart, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Outside of Afghanistan, Browne developed the world’s first protocols to treat drug-addicted children and established innovative juvenile treatment programs in Brazil and Peru. These programs are being adapted to serve nearly 7 million child addicts in nine high-risk countries that include India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Additionally, he uncovered two toxic substances being added by traffickers to crack cocaine in Latin America, spurring the development of the first quick-test device to screen for these substances and leading to the delivery of life-saving health services in these countries.
“Thom works in the most difficult and hostile environments that you can find. If we have a program in a country, it is a country whose own institutions are not strong enough to address the issue themselves,” said Brownfield.
Browne also developed the first specialized manuals for the treatment of women with substance abuse disorders. This one-of-a-kind, 10-part series has provided unique strategies and clinical techniques for counselors in the U.S. and globally.
Browne, who began his career with the DEA drafting the Reagan administration’s cocaine reduction strategy for the Western Hemisphere, and leading the agency’s designer synthetic drug program, strongly believes a public-health approach is the best way to break the brutal cycle of addiction.
“Having worked on both sides of the equation, unless you reduce demand, you are not going to have a chance. People are going to find a way to access drugs,” he said. “I hope that the systems that I have set up enable people and countries to stay ahead of the curve and nip the problems as they come up.”
Brownfield said Browne does not get the kind of headlines that come with big drug arrests, but his work has had a tremendous impact nonetheless.
“Thom has developed the systems and procedures that have allowed millions of people to deal with their addiction or substance abuse problem and prevented others from walking down that road,” said Brownfield.