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Addiction Research Collaborative (ARC)


The Florida Atlantic University Addiction Research Collaborative (ARC) is an interdisciplinary group of over 40 faculty and staff at the university. The ARC’s goal is to stimulate research, educational, and policy initiatives to address:

  • the public health emergency of opioid addiction and overdose deaths;
  • the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social challenges involved in all forms of substance abuse.

Through its combined efforts, the ARC, working with its community partners, seeks to shift the trajectory of the epidemic in South Florida and nationally.

Faculty Research (selected profiles):

Click on faculty member's name to view their profile.
Dr. Jennifer Attonito, a faculty member in the College of Business' Department of Health Care Administration, studies health policy related to drug and alcohol regulation and addiction treatment. As a member of the Palm Beach County opiate task force proviso committee, led by Deputy State Attorney Alan Johnson, she is particularly interested in local and state policy on addiction treatment. Along with Dr. Joanna Drowos, Associate Director of Integrated Medical Sciences in the College of Medicine, she is collaborating with 3rd party payers and local addiction treatment centers to explore new reimbursement mechanisms that can expand insurance coverage for addiction recovery services.

College of Medicine Professor and Brain Institute Executive Director Dr. Randy Blakely leads a laboratory focused on the genetics, biochemistry and regulation of a class of brain proteins known as neurotransmitter transporters. These transporters, if altered, can lead to major brain disorders. In particular, transporters for the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are targets for major psychotropic drugs, such as antidepressants, cocaine and amphetamines. Blakely’s team is exploring ways to intervene in these critical pathways to stop the repetitive cycle of addiction and relapse in substance abuse. For example, in a recent study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Blakely’s team illuminated how serotonin contributes to the allure of cocaine, a drug that accounted for over 1800 fatalities in South Florida in 2015. Blakely hopes that these findings will stimulate research into serotonin-based therapies to treat addiction.
Dr. Lucia Carvelli’s research explores novel ion channels as targets for amphetamines, and she uses the tiny worm, C. elegans, in her research because this organism, with just eight neurons, can teach us much about how our brains function. In a recent discovery, Dr. Carvelli has shown that amphetamine exposure to C. elegans embryos generates epigenetic changes that are, in turn, passed on to the next generation, and this has significant implications for understanding human predisposition for addiction. Dr. Carvelli is a tenured faculty member in the Wilkes Honors College as well as a researcher in the FAU Brain Institute. She also holds a secondary appointment in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.
Dr. Predrag Cudic’s current research focuses on development of novel therapies to treat pain while minimizing addiction. Treatment of central nervous system diseases such as pain and addiction is challenging due to the inability of many therapeutic agents, especially large molecular weight drugs such as peptides and proteins, to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and blood-cerebrospinal fluid (BCB) barrier. Alternatively, intranasal administration may enable these therapeutic agents to directly enter the brain by bypassing the BBB and BCB. To increase intranasal delivery of therapeutic peptides to the brain, Cudic’s team has designed a novel strategy based on grafting a bioactive sequence into the carrier cyclic peptide scaffold that exhibits bio-adhesive properties. Dr. Cudic is a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. His work is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Wendy P. Guastaferro is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice. Dr. Guastaferro’s research centers on drug courts, and more broadly, effective behavioral health (primarily substance abuse and mental health) treatments and policies within community, jail, and prison settings. Dr. Guastaferro’s current project is a quasi-experimental study looking at the effect of implementing parenting, trauma-care services, and a program of prosocial-leisure activities focused on community and family oriented events (called the Social Recovery Initiative (SRI)) to an adult felony-level drug court. The study is federally supported by an HHS Administration for Children and Families 5-year, $4.9 million grant. Dr. Guastaferro is co-PI on the project with Dr. Dan Whitaker, Center for Healthy Development, at Georgia State University. Her newest project examines how well current treatment services meet the criminogenic and substance abuse treatment needs of participants in ten drug courts.
Dr. Howard’s research and clinical expertise focus on gender-specific and trauma-informed care for women that reduces stigma and encourages health empowerment. She has been awarded several external local and national foundation grants for clinical research involving women’s health issues such as substance use disorders and trauma. In addition, Dr. Howard was assistant professor at Wheelock College for the past five years. She taught participatory action research, substance use disorder prevention and treatment spanning healthcare systems, and advanced clinical practice with individuals and families. She was also the coordinator of the Integrated Healthcare certificate incorporating classes on health policy, health disparities, and substance use prevention and treatment in healthcare.

Her clinical and research expertise focuses on the treatment of grief and loss, trauma, and prevention and treatment of substance use disorders at a Brown University-based hospital. Her peer-reviewed publications emphasize the importance of shared decision-making for perinatal women who are opioid dependent, and encompass medicine, social work, and education, focusing primarily on health disparities and public health responses to maternal substance use. Her future research will involve a national survey to determine if prenatal care providers are using the best treatment practices for pregnant women with opioid use disorders. Additionally, she plans to test several interventions to help women recovering from substance use disorders increase confidence in parenting their children, adhere to treatment recommendations, and end the repetitive cycle of relapse.
Professor and Director of the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, Dr. Naelys Luna is a licensed social worker with clinical expertise in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatric disorders. She has conducted research and published in the areas of substance use disorders, mood disorders, spirituality, parental roles, and mental health outcomes in minorities, particularly Hispanic populations. Under her leadership, the School will soon have a new Office of Substance Use Disorders, Mental Health and Recovery Research, which will be established by a generous gift from Phyllis and Harvey Sandler. The office, which will be led by a joint hire between the FAU Brain Institute and the School of Social Work, will serve as a hub for clinical and behavioral research, education, and community engagement for addiction treatment services. The School is also developing a certified addictions professional (CAP) certification program to strengthen the capabilities of those treating persons with substance use disorders.

Dr. JuYoung Park, an Associated Professor in the Phyllis & Harvey Sandler School of Social Work, is interested in opioid medication misuse in community-dwelling older adults with chronic pain. Her earlier research, “Risk Factors Associated with Opioid Medication Misuse in Community-Dwelling Older Adults with Chronic Pain,” demonstrated that new pain management strategies are required to decrease the need for higher doses of medication, decrease the potential risk for opioid dependence, and minimize drug side effects and complications for older adults. The results of the study showed that a majority of the older participants with chronic pain had never received non-pharmacological pain therapy, lacked knowledge about non-pharmacological therapy, and depended on pain medication alone, even though they were at significantly high risk for adverse events from such medications.

These findings laid the groundwork for her current research on effective non-pharmacological interventions in geriatric populations who are at risk for opioid dependence. Most recently, Dr. Park was co PI of an NIH-funded, randomized controlled trial of chair yoga to treat chronic osteoarthritis pain in elderly patients. Dr. Park earned her Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and MSW and BA degrees from the University of South Carolina.
Dr. Janet Robishaw, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Science, and Interim Senior Associate Dean for Research, in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, has been leading a variety of team-based initiatives for over 25 years to incorporate genetic information into improvements in patient care. Robishaw, who studied under Nobel Laureate Dr. Alfred G. Gilman, helped lay the foundation in precision medicine efforts related to a large research cohort at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. By linking patients’ genetic information to clinical data, she and her collaborators are able to search for genetic variants that could contribute to disease pathology or treatment response, and translate these discoveries into clinical practice.

Dr. Robishaw has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than 30 years, including four current NIH grants. Most recently, she received a five-year, $4 million grant from NIH to help solve the “one-size-fits-all” approach to prescribing opioids for chronic pain. In a novel study, Robishaw and colleagues from Geisinger and the University of Pennsylvania are assessing clinical and genetic characteristics of a large patient population suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain and receiving prescription opioids. With this information, the multidisciplinary team hopes to ultimately develop an “addiction risk score” to distinguish those who are at low-risk for opioid use disorder from those who are at high-risk and thus need additional counseling and treatment options.

Dr. Lawrence Toll's research focuses on the management of pain and drug addiction through pharmacology and new drug discovery. His basic research on opioid and NOP systems, and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, as well as his discovery of the endogenous neuropeptide "nociception," have opened new avenues of research and identified novel drug targets. In collaboration with medicinal chemists, Dr. Toll's team explores the biochemical basis of chronic pain and drug addiction. With an accomplished career that started at UCLA and included positions at SRI International, the University of Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, and most recently, Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, Toll is an internationally recognized researcher whose work has been chronicled in over 130 publications. His research has been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health and he recently received a 5 year, $2.25 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to study potential treatments for acute and chronic pain that are less addictive, and to synthesize and test novel compounds that could potentially serve as drug abuse medications.

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 Last Modified 2/8/18