Minnesotan named Rhodes scholar to focus on U.S. drug policy

Riley Tillitt
Riley Tillitt of Eden Prairie, Minn., who graduates from Yale in May 2019, is among 32 men and women the Rhodes Trust announced on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, had chosen as the next group of Rhodes scholars.
Surbhi Bharadwaj | Courtesy of Riley Tillitt via AP

A Yale University senior from Minnesota who lost his brother to a heroin overdose said Sunday he plans to use his Rhodes scholarship to focus on criminal drug policies.

Riley Tillitt, 22, who's from the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, said people suffering from drug addiction need to be treated with the compassion "that they need as a human being."

"We treat it (drug addiction) as a criminal issue instead of a public health issue," said Tillitt, who said his brother and only sibling, Max, died of a heroin overdose in 2015 at age 21 when Riley was a college freshman. That attitude is leading to more people overdosing, Tillitt said.

Tillitt, who graduates from Yale in May, was among 32 men and women the Rhodes Trust announced on Sunday had chosen from among a group of 880 applicants endorsed by 281 U.S. colleges and universities for studies beginning next fall at Oxford University in England.

Tillitt, a history major at Yale who also is studying ethics, politics and economics, wants to reform U.S. criminal justice and drug policies. He served as a member of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, D.C., and as the president of the Yale chapter. Tillitt also served as a policy adviser for Connecticut Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont, focusing on drug policy, according to his Rhodes scholarship bio.

"Honestly, it hasn't sunk in yet," Tillitt said by phone after arriving Sunday at the airport to spend Thanksgiving with his family. He said he was "still shocked" and called the scholarship "humbling."

"I just hope I can do something worthwhile with it," Tillitt said.

Tillitt is among three Rhodes scholars from Yale in the latest group. At Oxford he plans to pursue post-graduate degrees in public policy and in criminology and criminal justice.

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