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Your Environment. Your Health.

Johns Hopkins University

Real Time Methods for Quantifying Exposure to Illicit Drugs & Psychosocial Stress

Gregory D. Kirk


Project Description


Assessment of exposure to psychosocial stress and drug use is complicated by the fact that each is often transient and difficult to recall accurately. Assessment of their causal connections with one another, and of their genetic and environmental determinants, is complicated by the complex connections between psychosocial stress and drug use and by the elusive nature of what constitutes the "environment."


We assess drug use and psychosocial stress in near-real time through Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA), in which participants use handheld electronic diaries to record events as they occur and report recent or ongoing events in response to randomly timed prompts throughout the day. We also maintain real-time records of where the reported events occurred by having participants carry Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to track their whereabouts with a likely spatial resolution of several meters.


Broadening the definition of environmental factors, we evaluate 'neighborhood-level' exposures to drugs and stress measured in terms of specially developed indices, the Drug Environment Index (DEI) and the Neighborhood Psychosocial Hazards index (NPH), each based on objective statistical data available from public sources and independent of self-report. For comparison, drug use exposure will also be assessed through retrospective audio-computer assisted structure interview (ACASI) and from biological specimens (hair and sweat), and stress will be assessed through ACASI and physiological measures (heart rate and allostatic load).


This project represents a collaboration between the NIDA Intramural Research Program (where EMA is already in use with polydrug-dependent outpatients) and Johns Hopkins ALIVE Study investigators (following a well- characterized community cohort of drug abusers, most of who are not in treatment). Following developmental work at NIDA linked to field trials in ALIVE, the result is a set of field- deployable, state-of-the-art tools indispensable to future studies of gene-environment interactions affecting drug use and stress.


See this project's publications and patents 

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