Latest OBSSR Connector Monthly Newsletter

The OBSSR Connector Monthly Newsletter is a monthly e-newsletter featuring updates from OBSSR Acting Director Wendy B. Smith, MA, Ph. D., BCB, information about behavioral and social sciences in the news, events and announcements, findings from recently published research, funding announcements, and other updates. The latest newsletter is available below.

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May 16, 2023

Director's Voice Blog

Celebrating a Career in the Behavioral and Social Sciences at NIH. When I took on the role of Acting Director of OBSSR, I was daunted by multiple responsibilities that came with the role, but particularly the task of writing a monthly blog. However, time flies and I can’t believe that this is blog number 17! I hope some of them have been useful and informative for you. I will be retiring from NIH soon to take on new challenges and experience new adventures. In this blog, I want to reflect on the role of the behavioral and social sciences research at NIH and how I have seen it grow and flourish over time.

Prior to joining NIH as a Public Health Service officer in 2006, I spent 10 years as an active-duty clinical health psychologist in the U.S. Air Force. My career jump to NIH was based on my excitement about being able to contribute to shaping and advancing the behavioral and social science research (BSSR) vision and initiatives.

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Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Spotlights

Using machine learning with electronic health records to help predict opioid use disorder among U.S. veterans

Although opioid prescription rates have decreased since 2012, many patients still receive opioids and are on long-term opioid therapy. It is estimated that one out of four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in primary care have opioid use disorder (OUD) and 4.7% of all pain patients prescribed an opioid will develop prescription OUD. Because of challenges in identifying patients with OUD, these are likely underestimates of the true rates of OUD in the population. Being able to accurately predict the potential for developing OUD could enhance efforts to prioritize prevention of opioid overdoses, as well as other adverse health outcomes related to opioid misuse and dependence.

Recently published research supported by NIMH and others utilized electronic health records (EHRs) from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to explore factors predicting OUD during the period when opioid prescribing was increasing (2000-2012) compared to when it was decreasing (2013-2021).

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Brain maturation sequence sheds light on youth sensitivity to neighborhood impacts through adolescence

In a recent study, researchers supported by NIMH, NIDA, NINDS, NIBIB, NSF, and others, investigated how developmental processes from ages 8 to 23 occur across the human brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Over the course of development, it has been the general understanding that children have higher brain plasticity than adults. Brain plasticity refers to the capacity for neural connections and pathways in the brain to change or reorganize in response to internal biological signals or the external environment. Prior studies in animal models have shown that intrinsic brain activity, which occurs when the brain is at rest, or not being engaged by external stimuli or a mental task, is higher and more synchronized when a brain region is less developed and more plastic. As a result, measurements of brain activity waves show an increase in amplitude (or height). Using this information, allowed for the research team to study a functional marker of brain plasticity safely and non-invasively in youth and young adults.

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Study finds increase in smoking prevalence and age of initiation among US young adults from 2002 to 2019

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, which has driven several decades’ worth of public health efforts regarding prevention of smoking initiation, particularly among adolescents who are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. These prevention efforts have resulted in a significant decrease in the prevalence of smoking among adolescents in the United States. However, recent studies have also shown that the average age of smoking initiation has increased; in fact, the proportion of young adults beginning to smoke (among all US young adults who report tobacco use) has doubled from 20% to 40% over a 16-year period. It is less clear whether there are sociodemographic differences among young adults in the US with respect to smoking initiation.

A recent study supported by NCI, NIDA, and the FDA aimed to pursue this next level of inquiry by investigating whether prevalence of smoking and smoking initiation differs by race, ethnicity, and education among young adults (ages 21 to 25 years) in the US between 2002 and 2019.

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News and Events

Recently Published Funding Opportunities