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Recent stories

SARS-CoV-19 Vaccine Discovery Efforts and Public Perception of Vaccines

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health and society has necessitated a swift response. Funding from the National Institutes of Health has prompted many labs to respond to this call to action by working to develop a vaccine to SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Weitzman comments on the delicate balancing act between fast-tracking vaccine production in response to the pandemic and keeping the public’s trust in vaccination. Despite many challenges, including workplace social distancing recommendations and necessary cold-chain infrastructure, researchers are impressed by the speed and scale of vaccine research. However, the development of the vaccine is not the only challenge forecasted. Dr. Elissa Weitzman worries that the climate for vaccine tolerance and acceptability in the US may impede national immunization efforts. She comments “We have to guard against rushing in a way that contributes to cynicism and mistrust.” Read more about the national push for the vaccine and Dr. Weitzman’s thoughts here.

Anti-Opioid Vaccine Research Updates

Substance use rates have grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance in developing strategies to prevent opioid overdoses. The American Medical Association reports that more than 40 states have seen increased deaths relating to opioid overdose since the onset of the pandemic. In response to opioid-related morbidity in the US, the fentanyl vaccine development project has been awarded a $25 million research contract from the NIH HEAL Initiative towards developing a vaccine to protect against fentanyl overdose. The goal of this research, which has been underway for a year, is to create a vaccine that will induce antibody production against fentanyl, preventing the molecule from exerting any effect. This would help those who use opioids from overdosing on fentanyl, either directly or through unintentional contamination of other drugs. Dr. Weitzman’s laboratory will simultaneously explore the social-behavioral factors influencing vaccine acceptance. Her expertise on public perceptions of immunization and her interviews with at-risk youth and other stakeholders will help guide the development and use of this vaccine. You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 and project updates here.

BCH among top 100 proposals for MacArthur $100 million grant

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today unveiled Boston Children's Hospital is one of the highest-scoring proposals, designated as the Top 100, in its 100&Change competition for a single $100 million grant to help solve one of the world's most critical social challenges. Boston Children's Adolescent Substance Use & Addiction Program has developed an effective model to prevent and treat substance use disorders in youth. Led by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH, and Elissa Weitzman, ScD, MSc, the program proposes to establish pediatric addiction medicine clinical and training programs that will build a physician workforce to implement substance use disorder prevention, early intervention and treatment nationwide. Read the full news release here and read the complete proposal here.

BCH launches multidisciplinary initiative to develop vaccine against fentanyl overdose

Ofer-Sharon-Levy-with-Elissa-Weitzman-David-Dowling-credit-Michael-Goderre-DSC_1901.jpg (800×534)The NIH has awarded $2.3 million for a pilot project, led by Boston Children's Hospital, to develop a vaccine that would protect people with opioid use disorder against an accidental fentanyl overdose. Fentanyl is responsible for a rising number of opioid deaths, and opioid users may not be aware that their drugs are laced with fentanyl. The study will also interview participants to determine their attitudes about potentially receiving an opioid vaccine. Future work will explore the possibility of protecting against accidental overdose of opiates other than fentanyl, and whether an opioid vaccine might benefit substance users more broadly.

Other news stories and published articles

Marijuana Use to Address Symptoms and Side Effects by Youth With Chronic Medical Conditions (Pediatrics, 2021)

Youth with chronic medical conditions (YCMC) use marijuana at rates comparable to their peers, despite potential adverse health outcomes. Of surveyed YCMC who reported routine marijuana use, approximately 1/3 said that they used marijuana as a means to alleviate symptoms and/or side effects of their condition. Additionally, this group reported a greater intent to use in the future than their YCMC peers who only used for recreational purposes (RU). Unlike YCMC reporting use of opioids to manage pain associated with their condition, the YCMC who used marijuana reported more frequent use than their RU counterparts and were more likely to report comorbid nicotine use. These findings suggest YCMC who use marijuana to manage their symptoms and side effects may be at a higher risk for developing cannabis or tobacco use disorders. Read more here.

Alcohol Use Behaviors and Reasons to Abstain From or Limit Drinking Among Medically Vulnerable Youth (American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2020)

Despite adverse health risks, youth with chronic medical conditions (YCMC) consume alcohol at rates comparable to their peers. The research team sought to identify beliefs and attitudes that contribute to the decision by some YCMC to abstain from drinking alcohol in order to create effective interventions that resonate with adolescents and young adults. Commonly reported reasons youth abstain from or limit drinking (RALD) included concerns about addiction, prior negative experiences with alcohol, the desire to perform well in school, and concerns about exacerbating their chronic condition. Future research should examine how these RALD could be incorporated into interventions to prevent or stall alcohol consumption on-set in YCMC. Read more here.

Digital Health Technology to Enhance Adolescent and Young Adult Clinical Preventive Services: Affordances and Challenges (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2020)

Technology plays a pervasive role in the lives of Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA). To capitalize on AYA technology use patterns, digital health tools have been developed to address current challenges in preventive medicine. The team conducted a review of current literature regarding digital health tools and their relationship to five 'affordances'-- social, cognitive, identity, emotional, and functional. Although there is growing promise in the development, research, and implementation of these tools, challenges still exist that must be addressed. You can read more on this review here.

Student Experience of School Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (Journal of School Health, 2020)

Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is a clinical guideline that can help delay, prevent or reduce substance use behaviors in youth. The team aimed to describe the experiences of middle and high school students attending a school with an SBIRT program. Most respondents found SBIRT of value, though students with past‐year substance use were less positive about the experience. More research is needed to optimize SBIRT delivery in schools. Read more here.

Parental Perceptions About Alcohol Use for Their Adolescent with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (JDBP, 2020)

Alcohol use can worsen attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, interfere with treatment, and worsen outcomes. In this recently published research article, the team's objective was to describe parental perceptions of alcohol use for their adolescents with ADHD. The findings were that many parents of adolescents with ADHD do not understand the unique risks of alcohol use for their adolescents. In addition, if alcohol use harm is not obvious, parents may not perceive there to be concerns about alcohol use on functioning. Parental education about alcohol use and ADHD is needed.

Online Searching and Social Media to Detect Alcohol Use Risk at Population Scale (AJPM, 2019)

Due to the high morbidity and mortality rates associated with alcohol use, especially among youth, efforts have been taken to find scalable methods to monitor adolescent alcohol use, as current methods are constrained by time and labor. In the 2019 American Journal of Preventive Medicine article “Online Searching and Social Media to Detect Alcohol Use Risk at Population Scale” Dr. Elissa Weitzman and her colleagues developed a novel method for monitoring state-wide alcohol use and the effects of local policy on youth drinking culture. By looking at alcohol key-word Twitter and Google Trends, Dr. Weitzman and her colleagues found strong associations between alcohol use rates and state-wide alcohol-related searches and postings. Furthermore, the most stringent state policies on alcohol use were associated with lower posting and searching rates. These findings support the use of this novel method to monitor alcohol use on a large scale and to evaluate the impact of local policy on drinking culture. Read more here.

Additional articles

Marijuana use and psychotic disorders in teens: Is there a correlation? (BCH Notes, 2018)

To understand the nature of the connection between marijuana use and acute psychosis, Dr. Elissa Weitzman and Dr. Sharon Levy conducted a study of adolescents with reported marijuana use. Of those surveyed, approximately four out of ten self-reported experiencing psychotic symptoms during or immediately after ingestion. This study has implications for the early recognition of psychotic disorder susceptibility, as psychotic symptoms may signify a predisposition to future disorder development. Read more on the story here and here.

Many Teens with Chronic Illnesses Use Alcohol, Pot (Medicinenet, 2015)

Contradicting previous theories on substance abuse and youth with chronic conditions, a recent study shows that alcohol and marijuana use among high school students with asthma, cystic fibrosis, type one diabetes, juvenile arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease is comparable to their peers.

Cheap Drinks and Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture (NPR, 2014)

In order to better understand why young adults begin to drink heavily, Dr. Elissa Weitzman conducted a national survey of college freshmen on the conditions that contribute to college drinking culture. One of the largest contributing factors to a student’s decision to drink was the access to cheap alcohol, facilitated by specials at bars and clubs. In another study, Dr. Weitzman determined that by restricting these promotions at bars frequented by university students, student drinking rates — and related behaviors such as missing class — decreased. As a result, the culture of drinking might be more flexible and subject to changes in social conditions than previously thought. Read more on the story here.

Boston Children’s Meet-up Group

‘Making Science’ in Fiber Arts

Sometimes my best ideas come when I least expect them — including when I’m knitting or doing something with my hands and talking to colleagues and friends. If you are a knitter, crocheter or fiber arts “maker” (novice or advanced), your peers will be sitting, making, and talking science and ideas once a month in the 333 Longwood 3rdFloor (ORL LO 365) Conference Room. We’d love to see you and your project there — let us know you’re coming so we can provide a light lunch; register by emailing us; newcomers welcome!

For more updates and news, follow Dr. Weitzman on Twitter.