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Alumni staff the PERU project, employing a new method to track opioid overdose victiums

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A new way to collect and organize data could be the answer to tackling the years-long opioid overdose epidemic. The University of Pittsburgh’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) is working with Pennsylvania officials to standardize death data from overdose victims. The purpose of the project is to provide more detailed reporting in real-time that could help show where the problem areas are. Previously, each coroner’s office had a unique way of recording data on overdose victims, but the project provides them with a template for a standardized option of data reporting.

A large portion of the program staff are alumni or current students in one of our Pitt Public Health degree programs:

SHANNON KEARNEY is the associate director of PERU, where she oversees the strategic planning and business operations via grants management and contract negotiations. In addition, Kearney conducts research and evaluation on health outcomes and cost effectiveness related to medication adherence. She earned her doctoral and master’s degrees in public health, as well as a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, all from the University of Pittsburgh. Kearney is also board-certified in public health.

ALEXANDRA NOWALK is the training coordinator for the Pennsylvania SBIRT project at PERU. Her background includes mental health research and work in the nonprofit sector to address health disparities in minority populations. She earned her master’s degree in public health with a certificate in global health from the University of Pittsburgh, specializing in behavioral and community health sciences. Nowalk holds dual bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and global studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also board-certified in public health and a certified health education specialist.

ALLISON BURRELL is a research specialist for the TAC. She earned her master’s degree in public health with a concentration in environmental and occupational health, as well as a certificate in risk assessment, from the University of Pittsburgh. Ms. Burrell earned her bachelor’s degree in public health from Oregon State University, as well as a certificate in global health from the Centre for Social Medicine, Pravara Institute of Medical Sciences in India. She is a certified health education specialist and board-certified in public health. Her areas of expertise include strategic planning and grant management, as well as data collection, analysis, and reporting. Burrell uses geographic information system (GIS) software to identify hot spot areas in counties looking to reduce overdose and manages the OverdoseFreePA overdose death data.

LAKEN ETHUN is the lead research specialist for the TAC. She earned a master’s degree in public health, specializing in behavioral and community health sciences, from the University of Pittsburgh. During her time at Pitt, she conducted a practicum at Prevention Point Pittsburgh. Ethun earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Joseph’s University. Her areas of expertise include county coalition development, communication, and sustainability, as well as the implementation of programs that reduce opioid overdose. In addition, she plans and develops county-level workshops related to various aspects of the opioid and drug overdose epidemic, and conducts legislative research to brief county leadership on relevant state and federal laws.

ERIN STRAW is a research specialist for the TAC, where she assists with data analysis and information management for various healthcare entities, law enforcement, emergency medical services and departments. Her areas of expertise include county coordination, community activation and awareness, and recovery support. Straw earned a master’s degree in public health, specializing in environmental and occupational health, with a certificate in risk assessment from the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds two bachelor’s degrees in psychology and natural science from the University of Pittsburgh.

ABIGAIL TALBERT is a research specialist for Pennsylvania SBIRT, where she conducts data collection and evaluation. Ms. Talbert has prior professional experience in public health law analysis and local health department administration. She earned her bachelor’s degree in immunology and infectious disease from The Pennsylvania State University with minors in biology and global health. Talbert is board-certified in public health and is a spring 2017 Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, specializing in behavioral and community health.

JOHN RADACK is the research data analyst at PERU, where he works on a number of PERU’s large healthcare data projects. He conducts analyses on cost, patient health outcomes, training proficiency for the SBIRT projects, and program satisfaction. Mr. Radack earned a master’s degree in applied statistics and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, both from Villanova University. He is experienced in conducting statistical research projects. Radack has also taken part in the Summer Institute for Biostatistics (SIBS) at the University of Pittsburgh.

MELANIE CALLAHAN is the research administrator where she assists with PERU operations, including grant pre- and post-award administration. Callahan earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently a spring 2018 Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, specializing in behavioral and community health sciences.

See a Fox News story about PERU at fxn.ws/2wNleVZ, and read more about the work of PERU at www.peru.pitt.edu.



10/10/2017
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