Honoree 1 of 9
Naomi Adaniya 10 MPH, 13 MA, 16 PhD
William Oxley Thompson Alumni Award
Awarded to young alumni who have demonstrated distinctive achievement in a career, civic involvement or both. Nominees must be 35 years or younger.
Navigating troubled landscape
Naomi Adaniya employs her compassion and education in work that is turning the tide in America's raging opioid epidemic.
By Lynne M. Bonenberger
Naomi Adaniya’s style of public service hinges on helping individuals and communities through a blend of compassion and hard numbers. That has made her an influential young leader in Washington, D.C., as director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Health Care Fraud Data Analytics Team.
Adaniya ’10 MPH, ’13 MA, ’16 PhD and her colleagues support investigations into fraud and opioid abuse by collecting information and tracking trends across the nation. They also collaborate with other agencies each year in sweeping law enforcement actions aimed at stemming the crisis. In a two-week period in 2018, for example, their coordinated efforts led to the indictment of more than 600 individuals — including doctors, nurses and other medical professionals — involved in more than $2 billion in fraud.
One reason opioid abuse has become so rampant is the health care system wasn’t sufficiently focused on patients, Adaniya says. Now, recent findings from her team reveal a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel of despair.
“The rate of increase in the number of fatal opioid overdoses has finally leveled off after growing every year,” she says. “It’s important when you’re fighting a crisis to not always be bogged down in the negatives. You have to celebrate the small wins and know that you are working toward something.”
“Naomi’s work is impacting the biggest epidemic of our lifetime. She represents the best of public health.” —Jose Rodriguez, deputy director, Office of Public Affairs and Communications, Ohio Department of Health
Adaniya grew up in Westerville, Ohio, a first-generation American with highly educated parents whose dinner-table conversations often revolved around national and world affairs. “I benefited enormously, which inspired me to give back,” she says.
While earning three graduate degrees at Ohio State — two in public health and one in geography — she chaired projects to help underprivileged children, worked on a task force to reduce infant mortality, received the university’s top graduate teaching award and found valued mentors with whom she stays in touch.
She also volunteered with the Office of Pastoral Care at Wexner Medical Center. That experience shaped her belief that all humans are connected, that everyone deserves to be helped.
Adaniya is saddened that the state she loves has been hit so hard by the opioid crisis, especially Ohio’s Appalachian region.
“I’ve been able to meet with leaders in those communities,” she says. “People are struggling. Whether you see it as an individual’s problem or a community’s, it’s in everyone’s interest for public policy to address these struggles head-on. The point of a health care system is to make people healthier and happier.
“What motivates me,” she adds, “is being able to represent many of those who aren’t at the table.”