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School of Social Welfare Professor Receives NIH Grant to Help Urban Youth

STONY BROOK, NY, October 8, 2020 – Ijeoma Opara, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, is a recipient of a 2020 Early Independence Award (EIA) from the National Institutes of Health for a project addressing substance use and mental health among urban youth ages 13 to 21. The award includes a five-year $1.84 million grant.

Managed by the NIH Common Fund, EIA funds early-stage investigators and provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists who recently received their doctoral degree to move immediately into independent research positions. The NIH granted only 13 EIAs this year along with other grants in award categories considered high-risk, high-reward innovative research. Each project was supported because of its unconventional approach to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.

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Ijeoma Opara, PhD

Urban youth in the U.S. are more likely to be exposed to licit and illicit substances, experience higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and live in under-resourced areas. Such a disparity leaves them at risk of poorer health outcomes than their counterparts.

Dr. Opara’s community-based prevention study, “Understanding the Role of Neighborhoods on Urban Youth’s Substance Use and Mental Health: A Community-Based Substance Abuse Prevention Project,” will tackle the complex issue of the relationship between substance use, neighborhood characteristics and mental health among urban youth.

“My project will look at the role of neighborhood substance use and mental health outcomes among youth in Paterson, N.J.” said Dr. Opara. “I’m focusing on connecting underlying issues such as anxiety and depressive symptoms that are often associated with substance use and how specific conditions in neighborhoods can be a source of support or risk factors for these youth.”

Dr. Opara is the first social worker to receive an EIA from the NIH.

“The breadth of innovative science put forth by the 2020 cohort of early career and seasoned investigators is impressive and inspiring,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. “I am confident that their work will propel biomedical and behavioral research and lead to improvements in human health.”

For more about the NIH’s high-risk, high-reward 2020 grants, including the EIA, see this link.

For more about Dr. Opara’s award, see this news.

For more about her research and background, see this Q and A.

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