Drug abuse among Katrina evaucees focus of $1.5M study at UH

July 06, 2006

Houston, July 6, 2006-- Hurricane Katrina leveled a city, uprooted people and changed lives. Now the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant to the University of Houston's Office for Drug and Social Policy Research (ODSPR) to study substance use and other health consequences among Katrina evacuees living in Houston.

The ODSPR is housed in the UH Graduate College of Social Work.

It's estimated that more than 150,000 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina now call Houston home. UH researchers will interview 300 evacuees, men and women, mostly African American and Hispanic. In addition to being asked about their drug habits before the hurricane, participants also will be surveyed about issues with depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, drug networks and friendship circles. The study also will examine how changes in drug use or drug habits may affect the spread of AIDS and HIV.

"This study will contribute new knowledge that will assist in developing rapid public health responses for other large-scale disasters that affect socially disenfranchised populations in urban areas," Avelardo Valdez, director of the ODSPR and principal investigator in the study, said. "These populations are the most vulnerable due to their lack of economic resources and the likelihood of having serious substance abuse, social and health problems."

Valdez and other researchers will conduct several follow-up interviews during the course of the study.

"We know that there are negative consequences on general populations following disasters, but there is little research on the effects of disasters on poor, inner city, minority populations," Alice Cepeda, UH professor and a co-investigator in the study, added.

Both Valdez and Cepeda said the research can or will enable communities to better prepare for natural disasters, especially in the area of public health and low income populations.

"It is significant that this research is being conducted at the Graduate College of Social Work , an institution dedicated to building upon the discussion of and resolution to critical human needs," Ira Colby, dean of the UH Graduate College of Social Work, said.

Valdez's extensive research focuses on drugs, violence, adolescent gangs and sex workers in South Texas and the U.S./Mexico border. A primary focus of his research has been the relationship between substance abuse and violence among high-risk groups. Publications include research among "hidden populations" such as youth gang members, injecting drug users and sex workers on the U.S./Mexico border. Recently, he was awarded a grant to study HIV and Hispanic heroine users who are transitioning to injecting the drug.

"When we understand the factors that lead to drug abuse, we can take steps to prevent it," Valdez said.

Cepeda has researched and written extensively on drug addiction, risk behaviors and "hidden populations," such as sex workers. She said one of the most important findings is that all the avenues for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis are present in hidden populations. In a study on public health issues among Mexican sex workers on the U.S. - Mexico border, Cepeda found substance and alcohol abuse was high, condom use was low, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases was a critical threat to both countries. (please visit http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/nr/2005/06june/061305cepeda_cmas.html for more information on this study)

"I'm interested in how we can intervene and prevent the risky behavior with an eye on how this research can be applied to policies that will aid those populations," Cepeda said.
The Office for Drug and Social Policy Research was founded in 2001 at the UH Graduate College of Social Work. The ODSP has a history of working with substance abuse and mental health services in underserved communities throughout the state of Texas. The mission of the OSDPR is to conduct and promote innovative research on substance abuse, identify social, historical, political and cultural aspects that contribute to substance abuse and related problems; develop clinical models designed to prevent and treat substance abuse, and propose and incorporate social policies that may prevent substance abuse.

For more information about the UH Office for Drug and Social Policy, please visit www.uh.edu/odspr/

For more information about the Graduate College of Social Work, please visit www.sw.uh.edu/

About the University of Houston The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

For more information about UH visit the university's 'Newsroom' at www.uh.edu/admin/media/newsroom.

University of Houston

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