VCBH Research News & Announcement Archive


Villanti Partners with Vermont Department of Health to Launch PACE Study

Andrea Villanti, PhD, MPH, has partnered with the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) to launch the Policy and Communication Evaluation (PACE) study to understand the impact of state-level policies and communication campaigns on substance use beliefs and behaviors in young Vermonters. 

The study will enroll approximately 2,000 youth aged 12-17 and 1,000 young adults aged 18-25. Participants will completed three brief online surveys over a six-month period that included questions about tobacco, alcohol, and substance use beliefs and behaviors, awareness of and support for substance-related policies, and exposure to statewide tobacco substance use prevention initiatives.

Dr. Villanti and Christie Vallencourt with the VDH recently completed in interview discussing the study, with Vermont Public Radio. 

Heil Partners with UVMMC and African Community Center to Improve Reproductive Health Efforts in Uganda

Sarah Heil, Ph.D. is collaborating with colleagues from the UVMMC Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS) in Nakaseke, Uganda on a project to reduce rapid repeat pregnancy among newly postpartum women in rural Uganda.  Rapid repeat pregnancies (RRP) occur within 24 months of a prior pregnancy and are associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including double the rate of infant and child under-five mortality and significant maternal morbidity and mortality.   Although 95% of postpartum women in Uganda wish to avoid RRP, only 25% use birth control and those who do use contraception often use the least effective methods.  Dr. Heil developed and has tested a promising intervention to reduce unintended pregnancy among women in opioid agonist treatment and is completing a fully randomized dismantling trial with this population. Working with Drs. Anne Dougherty (UVMMC) and John Mundaka (ACCESS), the team completed mixed methods work to inform the adaptation of the intervention for use with the Ugandan population.  They published their first paper together on Ugandan men’s knowledge and use of family planning (Dougherty et al., 2018) and in March 2019, Drs. Heil and Dougherty traveled to Nakaseke to spend a week working and training with the ACCESS team.  An initial pilot study of five women provided encouraging results and the team will soon embark on a small-randomized controlled trial.

Stephen Higgins, PhD, and Richard Rawson, PhD chaired a panel on the US opioid epidemic at the Northeast Regional IDeA Conference. The multidisciplinary panel brought together clinical researchers to dsicsus efforts to curtail this epidemic and reduce its impact, specifically in northern New England. View the presentations slides, here.

Kurti Receives Prestigious APA Div 28 Award

Allison Kurti, Ph.D., has received the 2019 American Psychological Association (APA) Div 28 Young Psychopharmacologist Award! This award honors a young scientist doing original, meritorious work in psychopharmacology and encourages excellence in research at the interface between the disciplines of pharmacology and psychology. Dr. Kurti was nominated for the award by VCBH Director, Stephen Higgins, PhD.

Dr. Kurti is excited and honored to receive this award, and is deeply appreciative of the opportunities and support that her mentors, colleagues, and peers have provided her, which she feels have put her in the position to receive this honor.

Sigmon Elected 2020-2021 CPDD President

Stacey Sigmon, PhD, has been elected as the 2020-2021 College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) President.  Dr. Sigmon is an Associate Professor with Tenure at the University of Vermont with the VCBH.  CPDD is the oldest and largest organization in the US dedicated to advancing a scientific approach to substance use and addictive disorders.  CPDD’s mission is to provide a national and international forum for scientists of diverse backgrounds to advance the understanding of molecular-neurobiological aspects of addictive disorders and, by the application of new scientific knowledge, to improve and develop treatments utilizing novel behavioral and pharmacological therapies.  Dr. Sigmon is a also current member of the CPDD Board of Directors and was the 2016 President for the American Psychological Association's Division on Psychopharmacology and Substance Use.  Congratulations, Dr. Sigmon!

Vermont Center on Behavior and Health Receives $30+ Million in Grant Renewals

University of Vermont (UVM) Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychological Science, and Director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health (VCBH), Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., has announced the successful renewal of two multi-million dollar Center grants.

The Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, and the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and U.S. Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) will bring in over $30 million in federal funding to support another five years of research on the intersection of behavior and health, replicating what had been an unprecedented accomplishment at UVM when these two centers were first funded in September, 2013. 

The COBRE will continue its focus on increasing understanding of the mechanisms underpinning vulnerability to unhealthy behavior patterns and developing effective behavior-change interventions, with the end goal of establishing a productive, stand alone Center of research excellence. The TCORS will focus on a major policy under consideration by FDA's Center for Tobacco Products that would reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes below an addiction threshold.

Click here for the full press release on the COBRE and TCORS Awards!


Examining Interventions to Increase Cardiac Rehabilitation Participation Among Low-SES Patients

Diann Gaalema, Ph.D., has received funding for an NIH-sponsored R61 award that will examine the efficacy of using early case management and financial incentives for increasing cardiac rehabilitation (CR) participation among lower socioeconomic status (SES) patients. Participation in outpatient CR has shown to decrease morbidity and mortality for patients hospitalized with for various heart conditions. However, only 10-35% of patients for whom CR is recommended, choose to participate. Low-SES is a strong indicator of non-CR participation, therefore there is a strong need to increase CR participation within this population. Both case management and financial incentives are proven effective in altering behaviors and promoting adherence to health-related regimens. Dr. Gaalema is a graduate of the VCBH Project Director mentoring program in which she successfully completed a randomized clinical trial studying the effects of financial incentives to increase CR participation among disadvantaged populations. Her new award will allow her to continue her research in this field to increase awareness about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of such approaches that have the potential to substantially increase CR participation and improve health outcomes among lower-SES cardiac patients. 

Heil Receives NIDA Award for Study on Pregnant Women with Opioid Use Disorder 

Sarah Heil, Ph.D., is now the Co-Principal Investigator of a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a multi-site treatment trial of pregnant women with opioid use disorder. Dr. Heil and colleagues from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins University, and Virginia Commonwealth University, will compare maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes associated with medically-supervised withdrawal (MSW) vs. opioid agonist therapy (OAT). OAT is the recommended standard of care, but there is interesting interest in MSW during pregnancy. Mixed results from weak studies in the existing literature make it difficulty to draw clear conclusions about the relative risks and benefits of MSW and OAT during pregnancy. The results will help patients, providers, medial societies, and governments make more informed decisions about the treatment of opioid use disorder during pregnancy.

Scholars Share Research on the Opioid Epidemic at the 6th Annual Vermont Center on Behavior and Health Conference

The 6th Annual Vermont Center and Behavior and Health (VCBH) Conference, October 11-12, organized by VCBH Director, Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., brought together scholars from leading universities and medical centers to discuss the opioid dependence epidemic, an issue that as rattled the entire nation to its core. Research on improving access to treatment and effective pain/addiction management were among the major priorities discussed at the two-day event.

The conference kicked off with an excellent keynote address given by Sharon Walsh, Ph.D., Director of the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Kentucky. Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan gave powerful opening remarks on the second day, setting the tone for a strong last day of research sharing.

Among our notable presenters were Andrew Herring, M.D., Emergency Medicine Specialist, Alameda Health System; Jeffrey Samet, M.D., Chief, General Internal Medicine, Professor, Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health; Laura Fanucchi, M.D., Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky, and our own, Richard Rawson, Ph.D., Research Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Psychological Sciences.

VCBH Project Director and Senior Epidemiologist Receive Dean's Excellence in Research Awards  

Current VCBH Project Director and Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery, Thomas Ahern, Ph.D.; and former VCBH Project Director, now Senior Epidemiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and Biochemistry, Brian Sprague, Ph.D., both received awards at the University of Vermont's, Dean's Excellence in Research, event.

Dr. Ahern was awarded the Rising Start New Investigator award, while Dr. Sprague was awarded the Mid-Career Investigator award. Drs. Ahern and Sprague focus on epidemiological research around breast cancer risk and recurrence.

The third annual Celebrating Excellence in Research is hosted by the UVM Larner College of Medicine and highlights research being conducted by junior and senior faculty, postdoctoral trainees, and graduate students within the college. The event's Keynote Address was given by Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and included other speakers such as Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., UVM's Senior Associate Dean for Research.

Garavan Receives T32 Award Focused don Training in the Neurobiology of Substance Abuse

Investigator, Hugh Garavan, Ph.D., has been awarded a 5-year T32 pre and post-doctoral training program, making this the second T32 training program within the VCBH. The purpose of this program is to train and pre and post-doctoral scholars in the application of complex systems approaches to the neurobiology of substance abuse. The core curriculum will incorporate: 1) the established complex systems graduate certificate at the University of Vermont; 2) course work in neurosciences, psychology and addiction, including classes focused on developing human subjects research skills; as well as 3) specialized courses designed to directly and effectively bridge the gap between the core disciplines. The overarching aim of the program is to produce researchers poised to apply state-of-the-art analytic tools to understand the neurobiology of drug abuse.

Dr. Garavan states his team is, "very excited to extend VCBH activities in this direction. Bringing complex system methodologies to bear on the rich data sets routinely collected by VCBH researchers will hopefully yield new insights into the mechanisms and processes underlying health-related behaviors

TCORS postdoc Maria Parker, Ph.D., publishes paper, "Associations Between Opioid and Nicotine Dependence in Nationally Representative Samples of United States Adult Daily Smokers", in Drug & Alcohol Dependence. This paper was co-authored by TCORS predoc, Joanna Streck and their mentor, Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D.

Sigmon Co-authors JAMA Psychiatry Paper on Novel Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

VCBH Faculty, Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., and other leading opioid researchers, have published in paper in JAMA Psychiatry looking at whether weekly and monthly subcutaneous (SC) buprenorphine depot formulations are non-inferior treatments compared to a daily sublingual (SL) combination of buprenorphone and naloxone. Daily SL buprenorphine with nalaxone has shown to effectively treat opioid use disorder but with limitations including sub-optimal medication adherence  and intravenous misuse. Researchers believe that weekly and monthly SC buprenorphine extended release formulations, may address these limitations while still proving to be effective. The randomized clinical trial of 428 participants demonstrated that long-acting buprenorphine formulations did indeed appear to be effective for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

UVM TCORS Research Presented at High-Visibility Sessions at 2018 SRNT Conference

Stephen Higgins, PhD, and other leading tobacco researchers, were invited to deliver the plenary presentation at the 2018 SRNT conference to provide supporting evidence of a proposed nicotine reduction policy. Their symposium was titled, "Reducing Nicotine Content in Cigarettes: A Discussion of the Evidence and Policy Implications". This presentation aligned with the FDA's recent announcement proposing a reduction in nicotine content in cigarettes, which has undoubtedly been influenced by research on the impact of this policy, which is the primary focus of UVM's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS).

Allison Kurti, PhD, and Dr. Higgins co-chaired a presentation on tobacco use among reproductive-aged women titled, "Vulnerabilities to Tobacco Product Use and Strategies to Reduce Use Among Women of Reproductive Age".

Andrea Villanti, PhD, MPH, gave a plenary talk on "Developing Research to Inform Tobacco-Related Policy", as part of her 2018 Jarvik-Russell Early Career Award.

FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, MD, commended all SRNT presenters stating they are "exactly the kind of people we had in mind when we envision who would contribute to the science underpinning dialogue [on nicotine reduction] and participate in the discussions we all need to have."

Former UVM/VCBH Pre-doc Hired as FDA Social Scientist

Mollie Miller, PhD., former UVM/VCBH Predoctoral Trainee and UVM TCORS Postdoctoral Trainee at Brown University, was hired as a Social Miller_MollieScientist at the FDA Center for Tobacco Products. Dr. Miller previously participated in a 1-year National Academy of Medicine sponsored Tobacco Regulatory Fellowship at the FDA. Dr. Miller earned her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Experimental Psychology from the University of Vermont. Congratulations to Dr. Miller and her accomplishments!

Drs. Ades & Gaalema receive Editorial Acceptance in Top Cardiology Journal

The editorial titled, "Geographic Variations in Cardiac Rehabilitation Use: Regional Variations in Medical Care or in Patient Behaviors?", by Drs. Philip Ades and Diann Gaalema, has been accepted for publication in one of the leading cardiology journals, Circulation. The editorial describes the importance of individual patient's health oriented behaviors and socio-economiic measures as key factors explaining regional variations in cardiac rehabilitation participation. Just as there is a "stroke belt" and an "obesity belt", patient behaviors explain lower use of cardiac rehabilitation in the South and the far West. Dr. Ades explains that, "without the input of Drs. Higgins and Gaalema, this line of thinking would have never come into play. I have learned so much in my collaborations with the VCBH."

VT Hub & Spoke Model Proves Effective against Opioid Addiction

An evaluation of the Vermont Hub & Spoke System of care, led by UVM/VCBH Research Professor, Richard Rawson, Ph.D., demonstrates success in combating Vermont's critical battle against opioid addiction. The report summary brief outlines the findings of the 2017 study to understand the impact of the model on those in treatment, and their families. The study shows a 96% decrease in opioid use after admittance into the Hub & Spoke treatment program, along with a 90% decrease in illegal activity among study participants.

Andrea Villanti, PhD, MPH, has been awarded the SRNT 2018 Jarvik-Russell Early Career Award, honoring members early in their careers who have made extraordinary contributions to the field of nicotine and tobacco research.

VCBH Director Invited to Present at 2018 UVM Cancer Center Symposium

Stephen Higgins, PhD, was invited to present research at the 2018 Clinical and Translational Research Symposium presented by the University of Vermont's Cancer Center. The focus of this year's symposium was on Cancer Control in a Rural Environment. Dr. Higgins' presentation, "Reducing Cigarette Smoking Among Disadvantaged Women", highlights his tobacco research on investigating smoking rates in disadvantaged rural women, a population in which cigarette smoking is greatly over-represented.


Published: Preventive Medicine Fourth Special Issue, November 2017

The November 2017 Special Issue of Preventive Medicine (PM) is the fourth in a series that focuses on behavior change, health, and health disparities. Contributors to these Special Issues are selected from participants in the VCBH's Annual Conference on Behavior Change, Health, and Health Disparities. The topics covered are of critical importance to improving U.S. population health. Dr. Stephen Higgins, Guest Editor and Director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, explains that, "behavior change represents an essential step in improving population health generally and curtailing health disparities more specifically." Please visit our Preventive Medicine web page to learn more about the Special Issue and to view the online publication.


Sigmon receives NIDA Grant to Continue Evaluation of Interim Buprenorphine Treatment

Stacey C. Sigmon, Ph.D., received a $3.7 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to continue the development and evaluation of a novel Interim Buprenorphine Treatment (IBT) that leverages pharmacotherapy, state-of-the-art technology and rigorous methodology to bridge existing delays in treatment access. "In an initial R34 randomized pilot study, we demonstrated reductions in illicit opioid use and risk behaviors among wait listed opioid abusers receiving IBT. This project will seek to replicate those highly promising initial results while simultaneously evaluating generality of our findings to additional rural settings outside of our single University of Vermont academic medical center."

T32 predoctoral Fellow, Eli Klemperer, participated in the American Cancer Society's, "Great American Smoke Out" live stream Facebook event.

Stacey Sigmon's, Ph.D., study on the benefits of controlled Buprenorphine treatment for opioid wait listed adults, was featured in the National Institute on Drug Abuse's monthly digest, "NIDA Notes".

John Hughes, M.D., has been appointed Deputy Editor of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, one of the few peer-reviewed journals devoted exclusively to the study of nicotine and tobacco.

Former VCBH Project Director Receives 2017 Junior Researcher of the year

Recent VCBH COBRE Project Director, Kim Dittus, M.D., Ph.D., was honored by the Larner College of Medicine as the 2017 Faculty Practice- Junior Researcher of the Year. Kim was cited as having organized one of the first of its kind nationwide oncology rehabilitation program that provides a platform for her research program. She is the author of 42 peer-reviewed publications and it is particularly interested in the value of weight loss in breast cancer survivors and in the timing of exercise programs in relation to chemotherapy regimens.

Success at the 5th Annual VCBH Conference on Tobacco Regulatory Science

The 5th Annual VCBH Conference, held October 5-6 in Burlington, Vermont, brought together leading tobacco researchers from universities and medical centers nationwide to share their knowledge on tobacco regulatory science. Keynote speaker, Mitch Zeller, J.D., gave an outstanding presentation outlining the FDA's new plan for nicotine regulation, which has the potential to reduce overall smoking prevalence and improve public health. To view this talk and all others, please click here

VCBH Director Bestowed National 2017 Mentorship Award by CPDD

Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., director of the VCBH, was honored with the 2017 Mentorship Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence during the organization’s annual conference in Montreal, June 17-22. The award, established in 2000, is given annually to a member of CPDD who has been an exemplary mentor to developing researchers in the field of drug dependence. In their commendation of Dr. Higgins, the award committee said they “admired the impressive caliber of scientists” he’d trained over the course of his career.  “We were especially impressed with the admiration and warm respect that were expressed in the supporting letters,” the committee explained.  “Your many contributions to the field of substance abuse research are deeply respected by the committee, as is your service to the College and its members. In short, we believe that you perfectly embody the ideals captured in the CPDD Mentorship Award.”

Allison Kurti, PhD, joins the VCBH as an Assistant Professor. Kurti recently completed her postdoc fellowship with VCBH. She was also recently named DAD editorial fellow.

JAMA Psychiatry Publishes UVM TCORS Study on Reduced Nicotine Content Cigarettes in Vulnerable Populations

Cigarettes smoking is recognized as the number-one cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., but it is one habit that is tough to break. The addictiveness of cigarettes is attributed tot he nicotine content which is a topic of high interests to the FDA. Research from the UVM's TCORS, led by Dr. Stephen Higgins, suggests that reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes may also decrease their addition potential especially in vulnerable populations. UVM has issued a press release with details on the study and access to the JAMA paper.

Withing days of publication, this study has garnered coverage in several national and international media outlets, including MedPage Today, The Independent (UK), and New York Daily News.

Ades Cardiac Rehab Expertise Featured in Consumer Reports

VCBH Associate Director and UVM Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine Philip Ades, M.D., provided his cardiac rehab expertise for a recent Consumer Reports Health article entitled, "What's Missing from Your Heart-Attack Recovery Plan." Part of the problem, as Ades explains, is the lack of geographically available options. "There are too few in many big cities, and in rural areas you could be a 3-hour drive from the nearest cardiac rehabilitation center,” he says. “Even small improvements in physical function can greatly improve quality of life and self-esteem, and lead to overall better health."

Former Pre-Doc Awarded FDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Fellowship

Miller, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate with UVM TCORS at Brown University, has been awarded a Tobacco Regulatory Science Fellowship at the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products, Office of Science. Miller earned her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Experimental Psychology from the University of Vermont, where she was predoctoral fellow. “I am very excited for the CTP fellowship and it's directly in line with where I hope to take my career,” Miller says of the award. “I am also able to remain affiliated with TCORS and the tobacco research community.”

Vaping & Withdrawal: Exploring Responses to Quitting E-Cigs

"Electronic cigarettes are currently the fastest-growing tobacco harm-reduction project." says VCBH researcher and Larner College of Medicine Psychiatry Professor, John Hughes, M.D., who is leading a new study to determine whether or not stopping e-cigarettes will lead to withdrawal symptoms. Hughes' lab, in partnership with Battelle Public Health Center for Tobacco Research Laboratory in Baltimore, MD., is in the process of recruiting 130 long-term users of e-cigarettes for the National Cancer Institute-funded study.

Rawson Talks “Sobering Truth about Addiction Treatment in America” in Psychology Today

A recent article by David Sheff in Psychology Today explores a lingering question about the opioid epidemic: addiction is treatable, so why aren’t more people receiving quality care? A VCBH researcher, with global experience in treatment, offered his expertise regarding shortcomings for patients in care. “They are denied life-saving medications by practitioners who don’t believe in them—as Richard Rawson, PhD, research professor, UVM Center for Behavior and Health, says, 'this is tantamount to a doctor not believing in Coumadin to prevent heart attacks or insulin for diabetes.'” Read the full article here. 

Rawson Part of Opioid Panel at Clinton Health Summit

On Monday, April 10, President Bill Clinton and three panelists -- including VCBH Research Professor Richard Rawson, Ph.D. -- discussed ways to help "Catalyze Solutions to the Opioid Epidemic." Dr. Rawson is currently working with the Vermont Department of Health on a "Hub and Spoke Model" for addiction treatment in the state. In his remarks at the Summit, Rawson said the treatment options out there are effective, but sometimes inaccessible. “Treating this is less complicated then treating diabetes, and it’s less complicated than treating many types of cardiovascular disease and hypertension,” he commented. “They are very effective and they are saving thousands of lives; we just need to get people access to these treatments."      

Streck- Receives CPDD 2017 Women & Sex/Gender Travel Award

Joanna Streck, pre-doc fellow, has received the CPDD 2017 Women & Sex/Gender Junior Investigator Travel Award.

Klemperer- Earns Multiple Honors

Elias Klemperer, predoctoral fellow with the VCBH, was honored by UVM's Graduate School Senate with the "Most Innovative Research" Award at the organization's annual dinner on May 5, 2017. The Award is given to a graduate student whose research is “unique, progressive, and exemplary of the cutting-edge research being completed at the University of Vermont.” Klemperer was recognized for his studies of how smoking reduction can serve as a stepping stone to later cessation. Klemperer also earned a NIDA Director’s Travel Award for his upcoming presentation at the 79th Annual CPDD Conference. Klemperer was also featured in a SEVEN DAYS article about UVM psychologists bringing therapy to federal prisoners.

Bercaw Author of New Memoir

Nancy S. Bercaw, VCBH Communications Specialist, is the author of a new memoir, "DRYLAND: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety," published by Grand Harbor Press, April 2017. 

VCBH Researchers Collaborate on "Pay People to Stop Smoking?" Article 

VCBH Director Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., collaborated with Assistant Professor Allison Kurti, Ph.D., and pre-doctoral fellow Danielle Davis on an article for The Conversation about the efficacy of financial incentives, in the form of vouchers, to promote smoking cessation and other health-related behavior change, especially among vulnerable populations. "Pay People to Stop Smoking? It Works, Especially in Vulnerable Groups," has since been picked up by multiple national media outlets including Considering that cigarette smoking still kills about 480,000 people in the U.S. annually and five million globally, Higgins explains that "financial incentives to decrease smoking merits serious consideration." The Conversation article was based on a paper, Financial Incentives for Reducing Smoking and Promoting Other Health-Related Behavior Change in Vulnerable Populations, also co-written by Higgins, Kurti and Davis, in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Gaalema Gives Keynote at AHA "Go Red for Women" Lunch

Diann Gaalema, Ph.D., VCBH researcher and UVM assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology, gave the keynote address at the American Heart Association’s 10th Annual Vermont Go Red For Women Luncheon. Gaalema spoke on "Behavior Change after Major Cardiac Events: Struggles & Strategies.”

New England Journal of Medicine Publishes Sigmon's Study on Interim Buprenorphine Treatment for Waitlisted Opioid-Dependent Adults

In many areas of the country, opioid-dependent adults desperate for treatment often find themselves stuck on a wait list, sometimes for months, increasing their risk of continued illicit opioid use, infectious disease, overdose and premature death. A full 96 percent of states in the United States have opioid dependence rates that exceed medication-assisted treatment availability. Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., an addiction research expert with the VCBH, recently completed a NIDA-funded randomized clinical trial to test a novel “Interim Buprenorphine Treatment” (IBT) regimen for waitlisted opioid-dependent adults. That study demonstrated the initial feasibility and efficacy of IBT in reducing illicit opioid use and related risk behaviors during treatment delays.  The results debuted in the New England Journal of Medicine on December 22, 2016 and appeared in newspapers across the United States thanks to media coverage by the chief medical writer at the Associated Press. NEJM metrics show that nearly 20,000 readers have reviewed Sigmon's study. 


Former VCBH Postdoc's Paper on "Encouraging Breastfeeding with Cash Incentives" Published in Pediatrics, Picked up by Reuters Health

A study on "Incentive-based Intervention to Maintain Breastfeeding Among Low-income Puerto Rican Mothers," by former VCBH posdoc Yukiko Washio, Ph.D., (now the Director of Implementation and Clinical Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Delaware), found that cash incentives significantly increased breastfeeding through 6-month postpartum among WIC-enrolled Puerto Rican mothers. Pediatrics published Washio's paper, co-authored by VCBH Director Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., in the February 2017 issue. Reuters Health featured Washio's results in an article entitled, "Cash May Get More Mothers to Breastfeed Babies," on Feb. 6. 

VCBH's Special Journal Issue on Chronic Health Challenges

As health care systems in the United States and other industrialized countries adapt to accommodate the negative impact of cigarette smoking, other substance abuse and obesity, science is turning to personal behavior change for solutions. To share the latest research in effectively managing these problems, Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., UVM professor of psychiatry and VCBH director, collaborated with experts on a third annual special issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.

Fellow Earns Poster Award

Ivori Zvorsky, predoctoral fellow, won the Outstanding Student Poster Award at the ABCT Conference.


Ades Invested as Inaugural Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

Philip Ades, M.D., was invested as the inaugural Philip Ades, M.D. Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention on December 16, 2016. 

Heil Earns Mid-Career Investigator Award

Sarah Heil, Ph.D., earned the “Mid-Career Investigator Award” at the inaugural Dean’s Excellence in Research event for The Larner College of Medicine.

Higgins Named to Prestigous Academy

Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., was elected into the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.

Hughes Named First Recipient of New Award

John Hughes, M.D., is the inaugural recipient of the ATTUD Excellence in Tobacco Treatment, Training and Advocacy Award.

COBRE Project Director Receives "Article of the Year" Accolades 

Brian Sprague, Ph.D., received an "Article of the Year" award from American Journal of Epidemiology for “Variation in breast cancer–risk factor associations by method of detection: results from a series of case-control studies." 

Mayo Clinic Proceedings' Article by VCBH Associate Director Maps Ways to Increase Cardiac Rehabilitation Participation

More than two million Americans experience some type of a cardiac event every year. Whether they’ve had a heart attack or coronary revascularization procedure, such as bypass surgery or coronary stent placement, doctors typically recommended these patients participate in Cardiac Rehabilitation (CR) as outpatients. Despite the proven benefits of increased longevity and reduced hospitalizations with CR, only 20 to 30 percent of eligible patients actually participate. An article published online, November 14, 2016, in Mayo Clinic Proceedings by lead author Philip Ades, M.D., Associate Director of the VCBH, identifies ways to increase participation rates to at least 70 percent among eligible patients: an outcome that, if adopted nationwide, could save 25,000 lives and reduce hospitalizations by 180,000 annually.  

VCBH's Sigmon Letter Published in Journal Lancet

The October 15, 2016 issue of The Lancet features a letter from VCBH Investigator Stacey C. Sigmon, Ph.D., also the Director of the Chittenden Clinic opioid treatment program, about her recent project to promote healthy eating among methodone- and buprenorphine-maintained patients. From July to Oct. 2015, Sigmon and colleagues collaborated with a local farm to establish a farmstand in the clinic's waiting room wherein participants could pick up weekly deliveries of fresh, free seasonal produce. Read Sigmon's letter. 

VCBH Investigator Publishes Findings on Rising Popularity of Menthol Cigarettes

Tobacco research done by Andrea Villanti, Ph.D., faculty member with the VCBH and an associate professor in UVM's Department of Psychiatry, is the subject of an article, "Menthol Cig Use Rising in U.S., Especially Among Young," in the October 17 edition of MedPage Today, The Gupta Guide. Villanti's study, done with colleagues at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, found that more young adult smokers reported favoring menthol cigarettes over the non-menthol kind. Their paper entitled, "Changes in the prevalence and correlates of menthol cigarette use in the USA, 2004–2014," was recently published in Tobacco Control.

VCBH Researcher to Evaluate Extent of VT Opioid Crisis

Rick Rawson, Ph.D., a research professor with the VCBH, is collaborating with the Vermont Department of Health on the nature and extent of the opioid problem in Vermont. VTDigger reported on the new partnership in "Researcher Aims to Give State New Tools to Fight Opiate Crisis,," by Rutland-based journalist Adam Federman. "Rawson cites two key epistemological challenges facing the state. The first is figuring out how many people are dependent on opiates, for which he says there is no solid data. The second is taking a close look at the treatment methods being used and determining if they’re working," the article details. 

T32 Training Program Enters 27th Year

Continuously funded since 1990 by an Institutional Training Grant, with Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., as the PI, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse,the VCBH is home to one of the country's longest running predoctoral and postdoctoral training programs in substance abuse and health behavior research. On July 1, 2016, the program was refunded through 2021 ensuring the ongoing support of 16 fellows who receive individual mentoring by highly productive, NIH-supported independent scientists, and participate in seminars and courses in substance abuse and related fields of behavioral economics and behavioral pharmacology. 

Sigmon Meets with Cuban Psychologists in Havana

VCBH faculty Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., traveled with a select group of American psychologists to Cuba in May to meet with Cuban psychologists and healthcare providers. The trip, organized by the APA Office of International Affairs, also gave participants the opportunity to meet with Cuban researchers at a psychological science research institute. More than 800 psychologists from Cuba, neighboring Latin American countries and territories, the U.S. and Europe also participated in Hominis 2016, a healthcare conference organized by the Cuban Psychological Society. "Despite the glaring absence of resources and infrastructure in the many hospitals and mental health clinics we visited across Havana, the Cuban healthcare system is far more sophisticated and holistic than I ever anticipated," Sigmon says of the experience. "Overall, we stand to learn a great deal from the resilience and ingenuity of our Cuban colleagues." 

Ades Named Endowed Professor of Cardio Disease Prevention

UVM has created the Philip Ades, M.D., Endowed Professorship in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, which honors the significant impact of the cardiac rehabilitation and disease prevention work performed by Professor of Medicine Philip Ades, M.D., over his decades-long career. Ades has dedicated himself to improving the lives of thousands of patients with heart conditions. His research is focused on the important role exercise can play in rehabilitation after a heart attack, as well as the benefits of weight loss in obese coronary heart disease patients. Ades, who also is associate director of the VCBH, played an instrumental role in the national expansion of cardiac rehabilitation services to Medicare recipients with chronic heart failure. This new position, designed to ensure that Ades’ legacy continues, is to be held by the director of cardiac rehabilitation in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the UVM Medical Center. 

VCBH Director Higgins Presented with Inaugural Donaldson Endowed Professorship 

An Investiture of Endowed Faculty ceremony hosted by the University of Vermont Foundation on March 30, 2016 presented VCBH Director Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., with the inaugural Virginia H. Donaldson MD '51 Professorship. An accomplished investigator whose work has attracted some of the most significant funding ever achieved at the University of Vermont, Higgins' 30-plus years of addiction research includes groundbreaking work in contingency management. A member of the UVM Department of Psychiatry faculty since 1986, with more than 270 peer-reviewed papers to his name, Higgins is the recipient of several national awards, including a highly prestigious MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Longtime colleague and former UVM faculty member Warren Bickel, Ph.D., spoke to the “grit, resilience and vision” that has marked Higgins’ career. Read more>>>

VCBH Fellow Chaarani Receives Award at Lebanese Event, Gives Talk  

VCBH Fellow Bader Chaarani, Ph.D., attended the May Lebanese Diaspora Energy event in Beirut as an invited guest. Showcasing the success of select residents and expatriates, LDE represents a one-of-a-kind occasion for Lebanese emigrants to develop valuable cultural and social connections with their homeland. "It was a great honor to receive encouragement and a trophy from the Minister of Foreign Affairs in recognition of my research," says Chaarani, who also gave a talk about the effect of smoking on the brain.

Further Evidence Financial Incentives Help Pregnant Women Quit Smoking

For three decades, developing more effective smoking cessation interventions for pregnant women has been a public health priority. One treatment, financial incentives, continues to show the most efficacy and cost-effectiveness. VCBH Director Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., published a meta-analysis of smoking studies in Current Addiction Reports

VCBH Investigators Collaborate on Research, Results in Addiction

An initial period of daily contingent incentives among opioid-maintained smokers appears to be more effective at extending smoking abstinence than non-contingent reinforcement. Stacey C. Sigmon, Ph.D., Sarah H. Heil, Ph.D., and former VCBH fellow Mollie E. Miller, Ph.D., (Brown) collaborated with VCBH Director Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., on "Financial incentives to promote extended smoking abstinence in opioid-maintained patients: a randomized trial" in Addiction.

Rawson Addresses Global & Local Addiction Challenges

As part of an NIH-FogartyCenter Grant, VCBH Research Professor Richard Rawson, Ph.D., is currently assessing the impact of tramadol, a narcotic-like pain killer that is widely used and abused in Egypt and the UAE. Rawson is working with colleagues to systematically collect a battery of information on effects of chronic tramadol use on treatment seekers. Rawson and the VCBH are co-sponsoring an effort with Vermont State health leaders and experts in drug use epidemiology to develop a methodology for estimating the number and characteristics of opioid users in Vermont. Accurate estimates of the number of users, the specific opioids they are using and the methods they use to ingest opioids are important factors for health service planning in Vermont.

Hughes Featured in WalletHub's "True Cost of Smoking" Online Article

In light of Tobacco-Free Awareness Week and to encourage the more than 66 million tobacco users in the U.S. to kick the dangerous habit, WalletHub’s analysts gauged the true per-person cost of smoking in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. John Hughes, M.D., UVM professor of psychiatry and VCBH investigator, talked with the online magazine's editors about the most effective strategies for quitting. Read the story>>>

Ades Receives 2015 "Senior Researcher of the Year" Award

On December 10, Philip Ades, M.D., VCBH associate director and UVM professor of cardiovascular medicine, was bestowed the 2015 Senior Researcher of the Year Award from the UVM Medical Group (MG). The award, which comes with a cash prize and grant funding, honors one physician each year for exceptional teaching and research efforts.

VCBH Launches Second Preventive Medicine Special Issue

The November 2015 Special Issue of Preventive Medicine is the second to be organized by VCBH investigators, featuring an introduction by Director Stephen Higgins, Ph.D. The theme, "Behavior Change, Health, and Health Disparities," is of fundamental importance to improving population health and effectively managing chronic health conditions. See the issue>>>

Gaalema Shares Suggestions for Holiday Health & Behavior on VPR

Short of fasting and avoiding all human contact, the holiday season presents an abudance of food, drink and frivolity opportunities. VCBH Researcher and UVM Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Diann Gaalema talked with Vermont Public Radio about the causes of excessive behavior and offers suggestions for mitigating the damage. Listen or read here>>>

Sigmon Talks Methodone Success Rate & Contigency Management Research with Local News

Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., recently spoke with WCAX Newschannel 3 about the 90-percent success rate of Methadone and Subxone maintenance at the Chittenden Clinic, where she serves as Director. She explained how VCBH research shows that even more opiate abusers could be helped if "contingency management incentives were used."See the story>>>

VCBH's Garavan to Play Role in Large-Scale NIH Study of Adolescent Brain

Hugh Garavan, Ph.D., VCBH director of neuroimaging and UVM professor of psychiatry, will lead UVM's research efforts in a huge landmark study on the effects of substance use on the still-developing teen-aged brain. More than 10,000 children, ages 9 to 10, will be enrolled and followed for 10 years.

Interim Buprenorphine Trial Helps Vermonters on Methadone Clinic Waitlists

The VCBH's Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., saw the need for a clinical trial that would use technology to improve the lives of people awaiting treatment at methadone clinics. A year-and-a-half ago, she received a $650,000 NIH grant to design such a program and the preliminary results are encouraging. Read the story in Vermont Digger>>>


U.S. Senator Leahy Sends Special Video Message to VCBH Conference Attendees

October 1-2, the VCBH hosted its third annual national, interdisciplinary conference to discuss and share strategies for changing the personal behavior patterns that increase health risks and contribute to health disparity problems. The conference kicked off with a special message of appreciation and support from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. See the video>>>

Gaalema Examines Smoking's Impact on Behavior in Two Populations

Diann Gaalema, Ph.D., UVM assistant professor of psychiatry, is the lead author of two separate research reviews involving individuals with mental illness and/or low socio-economic status who smoke. The studies appeared in July's Tobacco Regulatory Science and April's Preventive Medicine..

WCAX Showcases New VCBH Study Aimed at Helping Moms Quit Smoking

Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., director of the VCBH, explains that the study is looking at low-income moms who smoke and have young kids. He says only about 20 percent of these moms are able to quit smoking when they find out they're pregnant. His new $3.6 million grant aims to help them. View Story >>>

Chittenden Clinic Receives Fresh Produce through Farm Partnership

A pilot project connects patients at the Chittenden methadone clinic in Burlington with farm-fresh fruits and veggies from the Intervale Center's food rescue program. Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., a researcher at UVM's Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, started the project to help boost nutrition among a population that often has trouble accessing healthy meals. See the story>>>

Center and Director Higgins Profiled in Seven Days Newspaper

The August 19 issue of Seven Days Newspaper profiled research at the Vermont Center for Behavior and Health, and the work of Dr. Stephen Higgins, in "A UVM Researcher Aims to Help Addicts." Also included were Dr. Diann Gaalema and Dr. Philip Ades. Read the story>>

WCAX Showcases New VCBH Study Aimed at Helping Moms Quit Smoking

Higgins says the study is looking at low-income moms who smoke and have young kids. He says only about 20 percent of these moms are able to quit smoking when they find out they're pregnant. His new $3.6 million grant aims to help them. Watch the Story >>

VCBH Research the Topic of Vermont Edition on Vermont Public Radio

Jane Lindholm, host of VPR's Vermont Edition, spoke with Dr. Stephen Higgins, the director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, and Dr. Philip Ades, the director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the University of Vermont Medical Center, about the research they do on risk behaviors and how incentive-based intervention minimizes these behaviors. Read more >>

VCBH & Higgins Featured in Nature Article

The work of the VCBH was featured in an article, “Contingency Management: Why it Pays to Quit,” by Sujata Gupta, in the June 25 issue of Nature. “Bolstered by his short-term success in getting people who have become dependent on cocaine to quit, Higgins began searching for a population in which short-term changes could produce substantial benefits.” Read more >>

Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., Publishes Letter to the Editor in Response to New York Times Article on Heroin Addiction in Vermont

In March, the New York Times Opinion Pages featured a letter authored by Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and lead researcher at the VCBH, that responds to a February 26, 2015 article titled "Vermont Tackles Heroin, With Progress in Baby Steps." Sigmon's letter provides an update to ongoing progress made in Vermont and introduces an interim treatment solution for wait-listed opioid-dependent Vermonters. Sigmon's letter describes positive research findings surrounding new technology and buprenorphine medication, which can be dispensed through a computerized abuse-deterrent device while opioid-dependent individuals await entry to a comprehensive treatment program. Read Sigmon’s letter here.


Higgins, Heil, and Colleagues Look Deeper into the Unhealthy Behaviors Targeted by New Year’s Resolutions

Losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting fit are among the most popular New Year’s resolutions that get both made and broken every year, and with good reason: unhealthy behaviors are hard to change. Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., VCBH director, UVM professor of psychiatry and psychology, and guest editor of a special issue of Preventive Medicine on “Behavior Change, Health, and Health Disparities,” says “The evidence is clear that personal behavior patterns like cigarette smoking and physical inactivity/obesity are critically important proximal causes of chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, site-specific cancers, type-2 diabetes) and as such, behavior change will need to be a key component of their management.”

Steve Higgins, VCBH Director, Recipient of the Virginia H. Donaldson MD '51 Professorship at the University of Vermont

The University of Vermont's College of Medicine announced that Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., Director of the VCBH and professor of psychiatry and psychology, is the recipient of the Virginia H. Donaldson MD '51 Professorship at the University of Vermont. According to UVM leadership, “an endowed professorship or chair is one of the highest honors the University can bestow upon a faculty member.” In a letter announcing this honor, College of Medicine Dean Rick Morin cited Steve's " accomplishments and commitment to the College of Medicine and the University of Vermont as an outstanding scientific collaborator and as a dedicated mentor and educator."

Vermont Medicine Magazine Examines VCBH Research in "The Hidden System"

Vermont Center on Behavior and Health researchers explore the choices people make that can have as much effect on their health as disorders that arise from the recognized systems of the body. Finding ways to work within this hidden system and guide patients toward positive change is the mission of these physicians and scientists. Read more >>

Steve Higgins, VCBH Director, Named Among Top FY14 Research Award Recipients

Despite the continued challenges in securing National Institutes of Health (NIH) research support in fiscal year 2014 – including sequestration and lower grant application success rates – the University of Vermont College of Medicine was fortunate to secure $81.4 million in grant funding in fiscal year 2014 (FY14), which ran from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. That figure was significantly more than one half and nearly two-thirds of the total $128.04 million in funding received by the entire University of Vermont and represents a total of 280 awards to faculty at the College of Medicine. Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., Director of the VCBH and professor of psychiatry and psychology, has been recognized as one of the top grant recipients of 2014. In FY14, Dr. Higgins received notice of more than $34.7 million in funding during a single week.

VCBH Researcher, Hugh Garavan Ph.D., and Colleagues Published in Nature

Hugh Garavan Ph.D. and his colleagues in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at UVM have recently published a study in Nature identifying the predictors of adolescent binge drinking (Whelan et al., Nature, 2014). The study utilized data from an ongoing longitudinal study of adolescent development called IMAGEN, a study on which Garavan is one of the site PIs. UVM researchers (Whelan, Orr, Althoff, Ortiz, Watts and senior author Garavan) determined that binge drinking at age 16 could be predicted at age 14 by employing novel analytic methods and a wide range of measures. The study is distinguished by having a large sample size and by showing that a range of measures (genetic, brain, personality, family history of drug use, history of stressful life events) contributed to the prediction thus showing how broad the range of risk factors for adolescent binge drinking might be. The study is one of the first to employ appropriate analytic methods to identify robust predictors of alcohol misuse and helps disentangle the causes from the consequences of use. More details here.

VCBH Researcher, Hugh Garavan Ph.D., Participates with the ENIGMA Consortium

The ENIGMA consortium seeks to identify brain-gene associations by pooling data from labs worldwide.  Currently, over 300 scientists from over 185 labs in over 30 countries have contributed data thus providing the statistical power necessary to detect the genetic correlates of brain structure and function. A number of separate working groups have been created within ENIGMA- some focusing on methodological issues while others on specific psychiatric conditions. Hugh Garavan, a member of the VCBH based in the Psychiatry department in UVM, and Patricia Conrod (University of Montreal) have created an Addictions working group.  Funded by an NIH R21 grant to Garavan, this working group will search for genes that are associated with drug addiction.  The UVM team will explore if there are genes associated with a non-specific predisposition to addiction or genes that are drug-specific explaining, for example, the differences in drug preferences across individuals.  Questions concerning this can be best addressed by maximizing the statistical power afforded by the large data pooling effort.

New VCBH Grant Focuses on Reducing Unintended Pregnancy Among Opioid-Maintained Women

Nearly 9 of every 10 pregnancies among opioid-dependent women are unplanned, says Sarah Heil, Ph.D., a founding Coinvestigator of the VCBH. Adding to the many costly adverse consequences of unintended pregnancy, infants born to opioid-dependent mothers have a high incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition that often requires extended hospitalization for monitoring and treatment. As a result, hospital charges to care for these infants are currently estimated at more than $700 million a year. Heil’s latest project, funded by a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) award, will continue development of an innovative intervention that aims to increase use of more effective contraceptives among opioid-maintained women at risk of unintended pregnancy. The research may also produce important new insights into contraceptive decision-making that will aid in the development of more efficacious interventions for other populations of women at risk for unintended pregnancy.

Latest VCBH Publication on Financial Incentives to Help Pregnant Women Stop Smoking Featured in the Huffington Post

VCBH Director Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., and colleagues, have developed an effective behavioral economic approach that offers pregnant women who smoke financial incentives to stop. This approach was published this month in Preventive Medicine. Since its publication, Dr. Higgins was featured in the Huffington Post speaking about the implications of this novel research. In the article, he commented on the delicate use of financial incentives, "When you do incentive programs, you've got to offer a meaningful amount or you don't get a response. And you usually get a better response with still larger amounts." Read more >>

New VCBH Grant Focuses on Treatments for Wait-Listed Opioid-Dependent Vermonters

Nearly 1,000 Vermonters are currently wait-listed for treatment in Vermont and many more desperately need treatment but don’t bother to join a waitlist once they learn of the lengthy delay to treatment, says Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., who directs Vermont’s first and largest methadone clinic and is a founding Coinvestigator of the VCBH at UVM. Sigmon's latest project, funded by a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) award, will develop a novel Interim Buprenorphine Treatment to help opioid-dependent Vermonters bridge challenging waitlist delays. She’s proposed a treatment “package” of five key components designed to maximize patient access to evidence-based medication for opioid dependence while minimizing common barriers to treatment success, including risks of medication non-adherence, abuse and diversion. Read more >>

Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., Quoted as a National Expert on the Treatment of Heroin Addiction in Rural America

University of Vermont Associate Professor of Psychiatry and COBRE Grant Core Director Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D. was quoted in the Tufts University Observer's recent article, "Heroin Use in Vermont." In this article, Dr. Sigmon provides expert insight on predictors of heroin abuse and addiction. She also notes that the use of heroin is more an issue of "availability or cost rather than clear preference.”

Phil Ades, MD, Featured in Wall Street Journal Article on Cardiac Rehabilitation for Heart Failure

Associate Director of the COBRE Grant at the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health and University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Philip Ades, M.D., a cardiologist and director of cardiac rehabilitation at Fletcher Allen Health Care, is featured in a front-page “Personal Journal” section article that appeared in the April 1, 2014 Wall Street Journal. Ades, in conjunction with the principal investigator Diann Gaalema, is currently conducting a study through UVM’s Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, to provide financial incentives to patients on Medicaid to attend cardiac rehab exercise sessions. Research evidence, says Ades, shows that this population does not attend CR or do exercise. Early results show promise for the incentivized program. The project is funded by UVM’s Center on Biomedical Research Excellence IDeA award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH under grant number P20GM12345). Read more >>

Phil Ades, MD, VCBH Associate Director and Professor of Medicine, Lectures at the Mayo Clinic

Phil Ades, MD, Associate Director of the COBRE Grant at the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health and Professor of Medicine, gave two notable lectures at the Mayo Clinic on January 22, 2014. The first was a Medical Grand Rounds lecture on the topic of "The Future of Cardiac Rehabilitation/Secondary Prevention Programs". His second talk delivered to the Mayo Cardiovascular Society was part of the Gau Lectureship on Preventive Cardiology and addressed "Obesity and Weight Loss in Coronary Patients."


JAMA Psychiatry Study Evaluates Outpatient Detoxification in Prescription Opioid Abusers

A recently-published study by VCBH faculty shows that patients addicted to prescription painkillers may respond favorably to a carefully-crafted, four-week buprenorphine taper plus naltrexone maintenance treatment. These clinical trial results were reported by Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D. and colleagues and published in the October 23, 2013 Online First edition of the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Abuse of prescription opioid drugs, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone, are a serious public health problem. Since 1990, drug overdose death rates have more than tripled in the U.S., with nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses caused by prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sigmon and colleagues conducted a 12-week randomized clinical trial in an outpatient research clinic with 70 prescription opioid-dependent patients to compare the efficacy of varying durations of outpatient detoxification. After a two-week period of stabilization on buprenorphine, an opioid agonist medication, patients were randomized to gradually reduce the dose of the buprenorphine over one, two or four weeks followed by treatment with naltrexone, a drug that blocks opioid receptors and prevents a return to opioid dependence. Patients in all groups also received individual behavioral therapy, HIV and hepatitis education, and urinalysis monitoring. The study findings indicate that opioid abstinence was greater in patients receiving the four-week taper compared with the two- and one-week taper conditions. These results suggest that a meaningful subset of prescription opioid abusers may respond favorably to outpatient treatment with buprenorphine detoxification in combination with naltrexone and behavioral therapy, say Sigmon and her colleagues.

VCBH Receives $34.7 Million in Funding for Behavioral Health Research

Professor of Psychiatry Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., and colleagues received an unprecedented $34.7 million in funding for behavior and health-related research that will be housed in the VCBH at the University of Vermont. On Monday, the College announced the receipt of an $11.5 million NIH Institutional Development Award COBRE grant. On Thursday, the FDA and NIH announced that UVM is one of 14 institutions to receive a TCORS award, bringing an additional $19.5 million to the University. In addition, Dr. Higgins received notice of a $3.7 million NIH award to study smoking cessation incentives in disadvantaged pregnant women.

UVM's VCBH Awarded $19.5 Million to Study Tobacco

The VCBH received $19.5 million in funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today as part of an on-going interagency partnership. UVM officials announced today the school is one of 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS), which are receiving a total of up to $53 million for tobacco-related research in fiscal 2013. The TCORS are designed to generate research to inform the regulation of tobacco products and protect public health. Stephen T. Higgins, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry will direct the center with John R. Hughes, MD, Professor, Department of Psychiatry serving as associate director, assisted by internationally recognized collaborators and consultants from Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Minnesota, and University of Pittsburgh. The Vermont TCOR will focus on researching tobacco products in vulnerable populations, including economically disadvantaged women of childbearing age/pregnant women, individuals with other substance use disorders, and individuals with serious mental illness, all of whom are at increased risk for smoking and its adverse health effects. Yet despite these serious vulnerabilities, these populations are typically excluded from tobacco regulatory studies. For the FDA to effectively execute its tobacco regulatory responsibilities, it must have sound scientific evidence on how existing and new tobacco products impact vulnerable populations. Providing that information will be the mission of the Vermont TCOR.

New COBRE Grant Funded

Stephen Higgins, Ph.D. of Psychiatry and Philip Ades, M.D. of Cardiology are pleased to announce the awarding of a $11.5 million COBRE research grant from the National Institutes of Health to support development of the VCBH. This center studies the relationships between personal behaviors and risk for chronic disease and premature death. This grant will support research projects led by five outstanding UVM junior faculty that include studies of weight control in breast cancer patients and overweight pregnant women; an intervention to increase cardiac rehabilitation participation in Medicaid patients; a study of heart disease risk in women with breast cancer and a study of the origins of obesity and heart disease risk in childhood psychiatric syndromes. Directors of individual projects include Drs. Gaalema and Althoff of Psychiatry, Drs. Dittus and Lakoski of Medical Oncology and Dr. Phillips of Obstetrics. These investigators will receive mentoring by outstanding UVM scholars including Drs. Harvey-Berino of Nutrition, Hudziak of Psychiatry, and Bernstein of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences. Dr. Sigmon of Psychiatry will oversee a behavioral economics research core to support these investigators and others on the UVM campus and she and Dr. Higgins will co-direct a collaboration and dissemination core that focused on tackling health-related behavior problems with regional, state, national, and international colleagues.  A highly accomplished team of UVM internal and external scientists (i.e., Brown University, University of Kentucky, Johns Hopkins University, University of California at San Francisco, University of New York at Buffalo, Virginia Tech University) will also contribute to this vibrant center of research excellence. In summary, the VCBH integrates an interdisciplinary group of accomplished senior scientists, promising junior investigators, and distinguished advisors and collaborators to establish a center of excellence in an area of clinical research that is vitally important to U.S. public health.

Klemperer also earned a NIDA Director’s Travel Award for his upcoming presentation at the 79th Annual CPDD Conference. Klemperer was also featured in a SEVEN DAYS article about UVM psychologists bringing therapy to federal prisoners.