Category Archives: Addiction and substance abuse

Apr 18 2014

New on the RWJF Website

Two stories on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) website report on new research by RWJF scholars.

An Incentive for Healthier Living: RWJF Scholars Find a Stronger Link Between Obesity and Kidney Disease

Vanessa Grubbs, MD, MPH, and Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, both alumnae of the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program (AMFDP), have discovered that obesity appears to be a driver of diminished kidney function, independent of a number of common kidney conditions. This suggests that overweight patients could face kidney troubles even if they avoid hypertension, diabetes, or other such conditions. The researchers also found that the standard measure used to gauge kidney function might miss early signals of deterioration that a more sensitive test can detect. This suggests that clinicians could identify emerging problems in otherwise asymptomatic patients, and help steer them toward healthier habits early in life.

Reducing Adolescents’ Risky Behaviors

New studies from RWJF scholars seek early markers for substance abuse, explore young adult sleep patterns, and gather data on health care providers’ counseling. RWJF Health & Society Scholar Julie Maslowsky, PhD, and colleagues found that mental health problems in eighth graders are a likely marker for subsequent substance abuse issues. In a separate study, Maslowsky’s research team studied the sleep patterns of more than 15,000 teens, because getting too little or too much sleep is related to a number of mental and physical health problems, including depression and anxiety. The same story reports on a survey by Aletha Akers, MD, MPH, an AMFDP alumna, examining the counseling health care providers give to parents of adolescent patients. The topics parents most frequently recalled discussing were the ones least associated with adolescent morbidity.

Feb 20 2014

Human Capital News Roundup: Abuse of prescription opioids, thriving singles, smartphone safety nets, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

In suburbs, rural towns, and affluent areas, prescription opioids, such as Oxycontin and Opana, are the most common cause of overdose deaths, Helena Hansen, MD, PhD, writes in a Huffington Post opinion piece. Drug policies that unilaterally curb access to opioids can actually hurt users’ recovery efforts, writes Hansen, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumna. The piece was co-authored by Julie Netherland, New York deputy state director, Drug Policy Alliance. It recommends prioritizing public health over punitive responses.

Tina Bloom, PhD, RN, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar, is part of a research team that developed a smartphone app to help domestic violence victims and their friends create safety plans. “This has been so well received by abused women because of the privacy and the chance to learn and weigh information,” Bloom told the Columbia Daily Tribune. “As survivors tell us, the computer doesn’t judge.”

Michigan Daily reports on a recent lecture by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumnus Patrick Sharkey, PhD, describing his research into how urban violence affects childhood development. Sharkey shared evidence suggesting that children’s exposure to violence in their neighborhoods can negatively affect academic abilities; the conclusion is based on a study he conducted in which children exposed to violence performed significantly lower on a test administered a few days later.

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Jan 8 2014

Why Do Deaths from Drugs Like Oxycodone Occur in Different Neighborhoods than Deaths from Heroin?

Magdalena Cerdá, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program.


Rates of fatal overdoses caused by analgesic opioids (i.e. opiate-based painkillers) have increased dramatically in the United States over the past five years. The prevalence of nonmedical analgesic drug abuse (i.e. use for recreational or self-treatment purposes without a prescription, or using more medication than prescribed by a physician) is second only to that of marijuana abuse, and currently the number of fatal analgesic overdoses is greater than the number of heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. While research until now has focused on the role of individual characteristics, there is an increasing realization that neighborhoods also play an important role in shaping substance abuse.

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Aug 15 2013

Human Capital News Roundup: Brain cell regeneration, malpractice concerns, reducing drug overdose-related deaths, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

Newly licensed registered nurses who experience high or moderate levels of verbal abuse by physicians have less favorable perceptions of their work environments, lower intent to stay in their jobs, and lower commitment to their organizations, according to a study by the RWJF-supported RN Work Project. Health Leaders Media, Becker’s Hospital Review and Medical XPress are among the outlets to report on the findings. Learn more about the study.

Can social media accurately measure public opinion and be a good indicator of how people will vote? Research co-authored by RWJF Scholars in Health Policy Research alumnus Fabio Rojas, PhD, finds a strong correlation between how often a candidate is mentioned in tweets—regardless of what is said about him or her—and that candidate’s final share of the vote. The researcher team’s data predicted the winner in 404 out of 406 competitive races using data from 2010, Rojas writes in an op-ed for the Washington Post.

Physicians who worry about malpractice lawsuits order more diagnostic tests and refer patients to the emergency room more often than other physicians, according to a study co-authored by RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient Michelle M. Mello, JD, PhD, MPhil. The result is higher medical costs for patients, MarketWatch reports.

The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) reports on a study led by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumna Margaret Sheridan, PhD, that finds that a mother's perceived social status affects her child's brain development and stress indicators. “Our results indicate that a mother's perception of her social status 'lives' biologically in her children,” Sheridan said.

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Jan 3 2013

Let’s Get Serious about Substance Abuse Treatment – Starting with Payment Reform

Brendan Saloner, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. This post is part of the "Health Care in 2013" series.


New Year’s resolutions are about fresh starts and new beginnings, and for many Americans that includes the decision to finally give up heavy drug and alcohol use. Unfortunately, when it comes to encouraging individuals to enter treatment, providing counseling, and supporting long-term recovery, our health care system is showing up late to the party.

There are 21 million adults and adolescents with a diagnosable substance abuse problem in the United States, but fewer than one in five receive treatment in a given year. The reasons why people do not get treated are complicated. Many are not ready to give up using substances or don’t recognize they have a problem, but many others are discouraged from seeking treatment because of the cost or the perceived lack of treatment options. Opportunities to raise awareness about treatment are often missed, as primary care doctors infrequently screen for substance abuse during routine visits, and are often unaware of where to refer patients for specialized addiction treatment.

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Nov 23 2012

Upcoming Webinar: Translating Research into Practice

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) will host a webinar on November 28, where INQRI grantees will discuss their research and future implications of their work. This is the first in a new series of webinars from the program, Translating Research into Practice.

The webinar, which will be held from 12-1 p.m. EST, will feature project investigators Robin Newhouse, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, and Bonnie Spring, PhD, discussing their research on nurse-led interventions to improve screening and treatment for substance abuse.

Register for the webinar.
Learn more about the research by Newhouse and Spring.

Sep 18 2012

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

Natasha Dow Schüll, PhD, MA, is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Program in Science, Technology and Society. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2003-2005). Her recent book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, examines the ways that the gambling industry has designed gambling machines that encourage addiction.


Human Capital Blog: In your book, you describe how electronic gambling machines—the modern equivalent of slot machines—are designed in such a way that they encourage addiction. Tell us about that, please.

Natasha Dow Schüll: If you have never actually been in a Las Vegas casino and your idea of it comes from a James Bond movie, you'd be surprised by what you'd find. Of course they still have card games and roulette wheels, but most of the money casinos make is from electronic gambling machines, which are amazingly sophisticated versions of the classic three-reel slot machine. Every aspect of their design—the hardware, the software, the math, even the seating components—is carefully designed to keep players at the machine, playing game after game. Play is simple and amazingly fast—it takes only three to four seconds per spin. The machines are programmed so gamblers win every now and then, and they give audiovisual feedback to encourage them to continue. They induce players to gamble quickly and repeatedly, developing a sort of rhythmic flow that can sweep them away. Gamblers talk about getting into a "zone" where everything but the game just drops out of their awareness. After a while, they crave the zone itself, so it stops being about beating the machine and becomes instead about staying on the machine for as long as they can so they can be in that zone. They're addicted, and they develop all the behaviors of an addict as a result.

My point is that it's no accident; the machines are designed to drive the kinds of behavior—playing faster, longer, and more intensively—that turns gamblers into addicts.

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Jan 12 2011

Health & Society Scholar Alum Interviewed On "60 Minutes"

RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alum (2003-2005) Natasha Schull, Ph.D., M.A., was interviewed by Lesley Stahl for the January 9, 2011 edition of “60 minutes” on CBS. Her topic: a new generation of slot machines that is contributing to gambling addiction. With gambling now legal in 38 states, the latest breed of slots relies on flashing lights, noises, rapid and multiple bets, and other stimuli to lull players into a trance-like state that Schull calls, “the zone.”

Schull is a cultural anthropology professor at MIT and a documentary filmmaker. She has recently finished a book based on her research in Las Vegas among compulsive gamblers and the designers of the slot machines they play. Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas is scheduled for publication by Princeton University Press later this year.

Watch the 60 Minutes story.

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