Penn State researchers combat problems of substance misuse

March 22, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The misuse of alcohol, opioids, and other substances poses many serious, well-known risks to people’s health and communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, economic stress, social isolation, and anxiety about the future may have deepened the public health emergency posed by substance misuse and addiction. 

Across dozens of projects, researchers in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development (HHD) are leveraging their own expertise and collaborating with their peers to address the genetic underpinnings of addiction, the effects of drug use on the brain, and three key areas of focus to address substance use: prevention, treatment and recovery.

Researchers are connecting with their colleagues across the University, many through Penn State’s Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA). A recent initiative and priority for the University, the CCSA unites researchers from every college and campus to prevent and treat addiction.

“By uniting the expertise and experience from across the University under one umbrella, the CCSA is uniquely positioned to help build a world free from addiction,” said Stephanie Lanza, interim director of the CCSA, director of the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, C. Eugene Bennett Chair in Prevention Research, and professor of biobehavioral health. “And researchers in the College of Health and Human Development have an important role to play in building that world.” 

The projects in this story demonstrate some of the challenges that researchers are addressing and some of the novel solutions they are employing to help protect society from substance misuse and addiction. 

The view from the front lines

Erica Usher works in one of the many communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic, but she has hope for the future of her three preteen children who she is raising in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Usher serves as the prevention supervisor for the Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission, where she has worked to prevent substance abuse for nearly two decades. She believes in the power of prevention to help stem the opioid crisis and the other substance misuse crises that we face. Read more about why Usher is optimistic.

We Are … uniting our strengths

Penn State unites against substance use and addiction through the CCSA, an interdisciplinary think tank administered through the Social Science Research Institute. The University developed the consortium to foster creative, interdisciplinary thinking that will solve real-world problems related to substance misuse. Learn more about the CCSA and the University’s initiative.

Prevention: Stopping a fire before it starts

The PROSPER program has strengthened family bonds and helped young people avoid addiction. PROSPER, a prevention program that targets sixth and seventh graders, has reduced substance use in communities across Pennsylvania and Iowa since 2001. Students that are part of this program learn social-emotional and decision-making skills that help them avoid substance abuse, improve family life, and decrease delinquency. Similar programs can help decrease youth substance misuse each year. Read more about how we can prevent substance misuse before it starts.

Prevention and treatment: Protecting new mothers when they are most vulnerable

One in 300 cesarean sections will lead to opioid abuse by new mothers. Each year in America, 4 million women will give birth, and of those, 1.2 million women will have a cesarean section. After a cesarean section, women commonly are given opioids for post-delivery pain management. Researchers are working to keep these women and their families safe during this vulnerable time. Learn more about supporting new mothers after a cesarean section. 

Treatment and recovery: Getting healthy and then working on it every day

Though many people see recovery as safe and stable — the same way that recovery from the flu is safe and stable — recovery from substance abuse often requires consistent hard work and active support to be maintained. Viewing recovery as a continuing care model could lead to a more supportive, healthier and more productive society. Read more about supporting people in treatment and recovery.   

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 29, 2021