Faculty at Center for Public Health Receives Nearly $2 Million in NIH Grants to Study Addiction Issues





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From left to right, professors at the Center for Public Health include Mance Buttram, Page Dobbs and Alex Russell.

Three faculty members at the Center for Public Health and Technology have received nearly $2 million in prestigious grants from the National Institutes of Health that will help people with substance abuse issues.

The centre, part of the College of Education and Health Professions, is a new interdisciplinary research center focusing on public health, communication, health literacy, and emerging media and digital technologies. Faculty are experienced leaders and collaborators who bring the power of health, big data, community partnerships, and operational resources to impact center-affiliated research.

Reform of the law on access to tobacco

Page Dobbs, the center’s interim director, received an $800,126 K01 award from the National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Regulatory Science to explore social media discussions of policy gaps, enforcement challenges, and regulatory interference. industry with tobacco control policies.

“The tobacco industry has a long history of misleading policy makers by pushing for tobacco control policies that are difficult to enforce or have gaps in them,” Dobbs said. “While it was more difficult to get information about these tactics in the past, social media platforms such as Twitter, Reddit and Tiktok now provide transparent data on tobacco policy-related discussions that anyone can find. “

Dobbs will explore social media discussions of tobacco control policies to understand how people avoid enforcement through policy loopholes, the challenges people face when trying to enforce these laws, and how tobacco industries attempt to interfere with the enactment and enforcement of new tobacco laws. “I think this information is important for policy makers and for the FDA, the agency that oversees the enforcement of all tobacco products,” she said.

Dobbs said that although smoking rates have declined over the past half-century, the tobacco industry has recently recycled many deceptive tactics to promote new tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, to young people and young adults. As a result, e-cigarette use among this young audience has increased over the past decade.

“In light of health consequences, such as e-cigarette and vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) first observed in 2019, the U.S. Congress and the FDA moved quickly to enact legislation that raised legal minimum sale age for tobacco products and restricts the sale of flavored pod-based e-cigarettes, respectively,” she said. “In addition, the FDA continues to call for research to help to inform the future of tobacco control policies that will reduce tobacco initiation and use, especially among young and vulnerable populations.

Dobbs said the K01 award, titled “Loopholes, Enforcement Challenges, and Tobacco Industry Interference with Tobacco Control Policies,” will allow her to examine conversations about new tobacco control policies on social media. Examining the social networks that connect conversations between e-cigarette users, local vape shops, and tobacco companies will help her identify policy gaps, enforcement challenges, and government interference. industry via timestamped data. “This research may provide timely results that will help inform FDA regulatory responses to emerging tobacco control policies,” she said.

Dobbs’ research will provide the FDA with quick, action-oriented recommendations regarding these policies.

Alcohol Use Disorder Intervention

Alex Russell, associate director of technology for the center, received a $735,000 grant to conduct a study to characterize alcohol use disorder and recovery-related exposures on Twitter to identify key barriers and facilitators of recovery, as well as identifying targets for later. intervention.

The K01, an esteemed research career development award, is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s an honor to get this grant and much of a credit to the incredible mentors that have been placed in my life,” Russell said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to receive additional hands-on training and begin conducting research in line with NIAAA’s focus on identifying and developing strategies to reduce the personal and organizational barriers that prevent people with alcohol use disorders from seeking and receiving appropriate care, as well as the development of innovative behavioral strategies to promote alcohol use behavior change.”

Funded in September 2022, the study, titled “Characterizing Exposures Related to Recovery from Alcohol Use Disorders on Social Media: Content, Cluster, and Network Analysis,” will continue through 2027.

More than 3 million young American adults (18-25 years old) met the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder last year. “While there are effective treatment options for the disorder, there remains a large treatment gap as many young adults are reluctant to seek formal treatment,” Russell said. “It is imperative to explore new and innovative ways to engage young adults in recovery support resources. One such way to improve treatment and recovery outcomes for AUD in young adults is about leveraging social media platforms to understand and address practical and behavioral barriers to engagement with services.”

Russell said previous research has established that social media use and engagement influences health behaviors, including alcohol consumption. However, social media platforms can also encourage healthy behaviors, such as abstinence or reducing alcohol consumption, he said. “My research aims to understand how we can use social media platforms to encourage people with alcohol use disorders to engage with evidence-based alcohol treatment services and, to their in turn, to successfully recover from their alcohol-related problems,” Russell said.

Non-Medical Use of Gabapentin and Opioids

Mance Buttram, associate director of research for the center, received an R21 award of $436,653 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for being the first to examine how the anticonvulsant drug gabapentin can be used for non-medical purposes in combination with prescription and illicit opioids.

“Limited data shows that gabapentin is used by people with opioid use disorder to potentiate the euphoric effects of opioids, but at the same time the data also shows that gabapentin is used to treat themselves the symptoms of opioid use disorder and the physical pain experienced by people who use drugs,” he said. “This study will use new qualitative methods, including the ethnographic decision modeling, and will conduct surveys of people who use drugs in collaboration with substance use disorder treatment centers in seven states.”

The findings of this study, titled “A Review of the Concomitant Nonmedical Use of Gabapentin and Opioids,” will help prescribers and substance use disorder treatment providers understand how gabapentin is used in “real” environments.

“By examining the phenomenon, the data from this study will contribute to public health knowledge of an understudied aspect of the opioid crisis, inform treatment practices for opioid use disorders, help developing prevention and intervention strategies, as well as informing public policy initiatives,” Buttram said.

About the Center for Public Health and Technology: As a multidisciplinary research center, the Center for Public Health and Technology invites collaboration with faculty from all departments and colleges. The faculty is focused on cutting-edge research, training and mentorship at all levels, and strong community partnerships. The center’s research integrates a wide range of health and social issues and cultivates mixed methods, including descriptive, experimental, and interventional approaches. Broadly, the center’s work aims to improve understanding of how technologies (online, digital, social, wearable, among others) promote positive health behaviors and reduce the burden of disease, as well as to examine the challenges associated with technology, including the spread of misinformation and the promotion of harmful health behaviors.