January 2001

From Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

Wake Forest professor directs substance abuse policy research program

Winston-Salem, NC - The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $749,968 grant to Wake Forest University School of Medicine for continued national direction of the Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program under David G. Altman, Ph.D.

The Substance Abuse Policy Research Program is a $54 million research initiative "designed to stimulate policy research on illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco," said Altman, professor and interim head of the Section on Social Sciences and Health Policy of the Department of Public Health Sciences.

"We are responsible for planning, organizing and directing this $54 million program," said Altman. "Our primary responsibilities are to develop and coordinate the review process and to interact with grantees once grants are awarded, particularly around disseminating research findings."

The ten-year Substance Abuse Policy Research Program is now in Round VI of grants, which are aimed at producing information about ways to reduce the harm caused by the use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. Projects are expected to explore public and private interventions "including the advantages, disadvantages and potential impact of these policies."

So far, 131 grants have been awarded at a total value of $25,022,643. Of these, 17 have focused primarily on alcohol, 37 on tobacco, 35 on illegal drugs, and 42 on multi-substance abuse.

Substance abuse is the nation's No. 1 one public health problem, responsible for 500,000 preventable deaths annually, said Altman. "The morbidity and mortality from tobacco use, alcohol abuse and illicit drugs are staggering, as are the direct and indirect costs to society. These costs include violence, crime, overburdened service systems, reduced industrial productivity and higher health care costs."

One recent study under the program said that increasing cigarette taxes by $1 a pack would save the lives of 2.3 million smokers, who otherwise would die prematurely from smoking-related diseases, during the next 40 years. Young adults and teens are highly sensitive to cigarette prices, according to the study, which appeared in Preventive Medicine. This study was the first to examine the impact of increasing cigarette prices on death rates from smoking.

A second study showed that while many single mothers have made the transition from welfare to work, many of those remaining on public assistance rolls will require substance abuse and mental health treatment services to help them get jobs, keep those jobs and fulfill their family roles. The study, published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, found that 21 percent of single mothers who received public assistance used some form of illicit drug and 19 percent met the accepted definitions of having a psychiatric disorder in the year prior to the survey.

A third study in Annals of Internal Medicine, the first thorough analysis of the legality of prescribing and dispensing syringes, found that physicians in 48 states can legally write prescriptions for injection drug users. For pharmacists in 26 states it is "clearly legal" to fill these prescriptions, while those in 22 states have "a reasonable claim to legality." Prescribing needles for drug users is aimed at preventing the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. More than half of all new HIV infections in the United States are related to injection drug use.

A fourth study found that while some some school drug prevention programs have been proved effective, the three most popular programs -- Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), Here's Looking at You, and McGruff's Drug Prevention and Child Protection -- are not among them. They're still being used, according to a survey of 81 school districts in 11 states. Among proven programs are Reconnecting Youth, Life Skills Training, Project ALERT, Project STAR, Alcohol Misuse Prevention, and Project Northland.












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