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Maryland public health leaders get a look for open Biden administration jobs

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein’s name keeps popping up in media speculation about who President Joe Biden might appoint to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but another Maryland public health leader also may be getting a look for a position in the administration.

Dr. Yngvild Olsen is an addiction treatment expert who currently serves as medical director of the Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc./REACH Health Services in Baltimore City, an outpatient substance use disorder treatment program.

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She is also Sharfstein’s wife.

Olsen, who has worked to expand access to treatment, co-authored a book in 2019 with Sharfstein called “The Opioid Epidemic: What Everyone Needs to Know.” More recently, Olsen served on the Biden-Harris transition team.

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The pair, Harvard-trained physicians, have long resumes in public health.

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein is vice dean for public health practice and community engagement in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein is vice dean for public health practice and community engagement in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Will Kirk/courtesy Johns Hopkins University)

Sharfstein has served as a Baltimore health commissioner, Maryland health secretary and principal deputy commissioner at the FDA in the administration of President Barack Obama. He is currently vice dean for public health practice and community engagement in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Yngvild Olsen, medical director of Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc./REACH Health Services in Baltimore, shown in this file photo, is reportedly a candidate for a position in the Biden administration dealing with substance use disorder.
Dr. Yngvild Olsen, medical director of Institutes for Behavior Resources Inc./REACH Health Services in Baltimore, shown in this file photo, is reportedly a candidate for a position in the Biden administration dealing with substance use disorder. (Lauren Loricchio / Capital Gazette)

Olsen previously served as a vice president of the nonprofit that oversees behavioral health services in Baltimore, as Harford County’s deputy health officer and as medical director for Johns Hopkins Hospital’s outpatient substance use treatment services.

It’s not clear when and if either will end up in the administration. They and White House officials aren’t commenting.

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For weeks, media outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post said the FDA choice was down to Sharfstein and Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the FDA, which is overseeing development and authorization of COVID-19 vaccines. But the Post reported Wednesday that Sharfstein may no longer be a candidate for the position.

With the pandemic more of a focus than addiction these days, Olsen hasn’t gotten the media attention, but several sources said she’s under consideration for a position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, possibly in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

If either is tapped for a public health position, they would join Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security. Inglesby, who also served on the Biden-Harris transition, is on a temporary assignment at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a senior adviser on the COVID-19 response.

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