Current Environment:

Research Projects | Overview


The Weitzman Lab is advancing knowledge about disease and treatment experiences, quality of life, risk behaviors, and health outcomes of youth with a chronic illness, including in investigations that “add the voice of the patient” into disease registries and cohort studies. The Weitzman Lab is currently recruiting for several studies and periodically has openings for post-doctoral fellows or collaborative opportunities. If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact us for more information.

Substance Use Among Youth


Modeling adjuvant responses in human blood in vitro to inform opioid vaccine development

The primary goal of this project is to develop an optimally adjuvanted fentanyl (FEN) vaccine by modelling immune responses of youth with a history of opioid use to candidate adjuvants in vitro. Opioid vaccines show great treatment promise as they can induce drug-specific antibodies (Abs) to form an Ab-drug complex in the blood too large to cross the blood-brain barrier, thus protecting from opioid binding to brainstem receptors that mediate respiratory suppression and overdose.

We will also investigate perspectives relevant to safety, efficacy, and perceived likely benefits of an opioid vaccine with exploration of how these factors vary among youth in contrast to parents, concerns for reduced efficacy of therapeutic use of fentanyl, and in relation to personal and family history of substance use disorder and treatment.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Ofer Levy, MD, PhD, Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Funder: NIH/NIDA


Evaluation of Adolescent Substance Use Screening Tools

The goal of this project is to assess the psychometric properties of three substance use screening tools among children and adolescents in pediatric primary care, when compared to the gold standard diagnostic interview for substance use disorders. The three tools to be tested are the Brief Screener for Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs (BSTAD); Screening to Brief Intervention (S2BI) screening tool; and the Tobacco, Alcohol, Prescription medications, and other Substance (TAPS) Tool. This project presents an opportunity to improve substance use screening tools for adolescents in three ways: briefer, more efficient screens, individual substance risk level determination, and refined risk levels.

Project PI: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH 


Supporting SBIRT Research and Evaluation

This project aims to collect evidence about the effects of screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT)- integrated care, by measuring and comparing substance use, mental health and health service use outcomes for adolescents and young adults receiving primary care in practices with and without integrated SBIRT services.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Funder: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation


Evaluation of School Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment in Massachusetts Public Schools

In 2015, Massachusetts passed a law calling for schools to offer Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) to all students statewide. MA House Bill 4056 calls for the implementation of verbal substance use screening protocols to be implemented in all public schools by 2018. As SBIRT programs are implemented in schools across the state, there is an opportunity to assess how SBIRT impacts student health and behaviors.

This project aims to evaluate the impact of school SBIRT on health and behavioral outcomes among adolescents through case-control comparison of youth in school who are implementing on different timelines, under a quasi-experimental model, additionally evaluating SBIRT implementation models using stakeholder interviews. Results will inform effective, sustainable policy change in school-based SBIRT efforts.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Funder: Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation


Integrating SBIRT into Pediatric Primary Care

The goal of this project is to create new access to a full range of high quality Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) services, in a statewide network of pediatric primary care practices. The Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction Program (ASAP) and the Pediatric Physicians Organization of Children’s (PPOC), have partnered to re-envision SBIRT in pediatric primary care with a new multidisciplinary model wherein a specially trained, licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) is brought on staff in a pediatric primary care office to deliver brief interventions, brief treatment and support referrals and serve as a bridge to the ASAP team of pediatric addiction medicine specialists. Primary care physicians participate in SBIRT through administering screens, providing positive reinforcement and brief medical advice, connecting with the LICSW for warm hand-offs, prescribing medication, monitoring with drug testing, reinforcing the medical importance of substance use treatment, and helping coordinate referrals to outside providers. This project will provide high quality SBIRT services annually to more than 33,000 adolescents and young adults. This project is directed by Dr. Sharon Levy, and will be evaluated by Dr. Elissa Weitzman. As the project evaluator, Dr. Weitzman is leading the team in developing both short and long evaluation measures, including measures that demonstrate the financial sustainability of integrated SBIRT services.

Project Director: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH
Project Evaluator: Dr. Elissa Weitzman, ScD, MSc

Funder: SAMHSA


Detecting Youth Drinking and Associations with Alcohol Policies via Social Media

In this study, we are developing and testing an innovative approach to public health monitoring of alcohol use and binge drinking using public social media posts. Using natural language processing, we are mining large amounts of Twitter data to produce estimates of state-level prevalence of alcohol consumption, comparing this to estimates produced from existing “gold standard” monitoring systems (the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System). We are also testing the relationship between social media metrics of alcohol use and the alcohol policy environment by assessing variations related to state level alcohol policy controls.



Predictive Measures


Validating Adolescent Substance Use Measures

This project aims to define and disseminate a set of brief and easy to administer measures to accurately detect substance use frequency and substance-specific patient centered outcomes among adolescent populations. We developed novel questions and are validating them against criterion standard measures using self-administered electronic surveys.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Funder: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation


Chronic Illness in Youth


Trial of a Novel Brief Intervention for Substance Use Among Youth with Chronic Medical Conditions

In this project, we have developed and are testing (in a set of randomized controlled trials) a brief, electronic self-administered intervention to reduce alcohol use among youth with chronic medical conditions. The intervention is patient-centered and draws on epidemiological and ethnographic research. The project rests on a framework that posits “four legs” of influence shaping youth outcomes – patient, parent, provider and policy.

Funder: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Project Co-PI: Dr. Sharon Levy, MD, MPH


Health Promotion in Transition: Effects of Web-Based Health Information on Disease Management and Alcohol Use for Youth with Type 1 Diabetes in College

In this project, we have developed and are testing (in a set of randomized controlled trials) a brief, electronic self-administered intervention to reduce alcohol use among youth with chronic medical conditions. The intervention is patient-centered, draws on epidemiological and ethnographic research, and clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate impacts and effects of the intervention among youth with Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatologic conditions.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Lauren Wisk

Funder: Boston Children’s Hospital Research Faculty Council Pilot Award


Social Media Research


Leveraging social media to engage adolescent participants in patient-centered cohort research for the clinical care of rheumatic diseases

Detailed and sensitive investigations with longitudinally engaged cohorts of youth are needed to understand the multifaceted experience of chronic illness and the impact of the disease course and treatment on the developing child. To attain this, we need nimble and scalable approaches for engaging youth in regularly sharing information germane to their health. Social media may address this need: youth participation in social media is ubiquitous and large percentages of youth engage around health and social behaviors. The purpose of our project is to understand the feasibility and value of collecting social media data from a cohort of teens with a chronic rheumatic condition, to augment understanding of psychosocial risks associated with chronic illness and complement structured patient-reported and clinical metrics. Findings will inform the nationally prioritized research goal of enabling cohort engagement and data donation for health research, and development of patient-centered interventions vital to improve outcomes.



Health-Related Social Media Use by Parents of Children with Rheumatic Diseases

Families of children with rheumatic diseases experience high treatment and disease burdens due to a lack of evidence based guide to treatment decisions and a lack of psychosocial support. By engaging support systems via social media, these families may have the resources for future healthcare decision-making. This project surveyed parents of children with rheumatic diseases to understand the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of their social media use and how it potentially affects decisions made about their child’s healthcare.

Project Co-PI: Dr. Jonathan Hausmann


Patient-Reported Outcomes: Quality of Life for Youth with Chronic Illness


Clinical Validation of PROMIS® Pediatric Measures in Diverse Research Networks

Clinical measures of disease used in research and healthcare delivery settings do not fully capture the impact and burden of chronic diseases and their treatment on the lives of children and adolescents. To more fully capture youth’s experiences and perspectives, the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System® (PROMIS®) Pediatric measures were designed but remain underutilized by the research and clinical communities. “Clinical Validation of PROMIS Pediatric Measures in Diverse Research Networks” aims to leverage existing data collection networks to conduct a multi-site longitudinal evaluation of PROMIS measures in children and adolescents with rheumatic disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.

As PI of Project 1, Dr. Weitzman is leading a national, multi-site study of PROMIS measures in youth with rheumatic disease (juvenile idiopathic arthritis, lupus) and their parent proxies. This research will enhance the clinical validity, meaningfulness, and usefulness of the PROMIS Pediatric measures to help promote the adoption of patient-centered measures in routine clinical care and research to improve the health of children and adolescents with chronic medical conditions.

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