Dr. Will Aklin received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Maryland. This means he is an expert in helping people work out their problems - often, very serious problems. His current research focuses on the development of treatments that will help people manage behaviors like impulsivity and risk-taking, which sometimes lead to unhealthy choices like drug abuse. He also supports researchers around the country who are trying to figure out how better improved treatments can help people with these kinds of challenges. When he is not at work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Courtney, and two kids, Peyton and Liam. Will is an avid sports fan, including golf, baseball, college football and basketball, and soccer!
Ish Amarreh is a computational neuroscientist with training in developmental neuroscience. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ish researched the effects of epilepsy seizures on children’s brains. .Ish developed new methods to analyze neuroimaging data for this research. In addition to neuroscience, Ish got a master in public affairs in order to learn how public policy is shaped in the US. Currently Ish is a AAAS science and policy fellow working in the office of the director of the national institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA). At NIDA Ish works on planning and managing trans-NIH initiatives, including the Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN) and Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) and in planning and spearheading large longitudinal studies, such as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study. Ish is avid sports fan and enjoys playing soccer and running.
David Anderson edits NIDA’s research newsletter, NIDA Notes, and is one of NIDA’s top science writers. He thinks it’s a good gig to follow the progress of science and spread the news about new findings that help people. Right now he’s enjoying all the new ways to communicate that putting the newsletter online make possible. He likes to play tennis, read, travel, walk around, and get together with friends. Some favorite places: Arezzo (Italy); National Bison Refuge (Montana); Dinosaur National Monument (Utah); Mile-Around Woods (Vermont); the corner of Hoyt Street and Montrose Parkway (Maryland).
Josie Anderson oversees NIDA multimedia, including video and still imagery. She has been with NIDA for three years, creating content for the website, managing NIDA’s digital media, and working alongside each member of the Office of Science Policy and Communications team. Prior to NIDA, Josie was a Combat Correspondent with the United States Air Force for ten years. Josie holds a Masters in Interactive Journalism from American University.
We are now introducing Dr. Albert Avila, who became interested in drug abuse research after seeing how people he knew were affected by abused substances. In graduate school he studied how cocaine, withdrawal, and stress affects the immune system. At NIDA, he has been especially interested in the intersection of HIV and drug abuse. Currently, he is assisting students like you and junior scientists from across the country with their careers in drugs of abuse and addiction research. He spends his spare time playing with his three daughters, training for triathlons and marathons, and watching their dog Roxy chase after their chickens.
Shuly Babitz is now joining the chat as an expert in alcohol---so get your questions about alcohol ready! She works for our sister Institute, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Ms. Babitz can sum up her life with 2 words: sunshine and writing. She attended Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach, FL where she divided her time between the beach (clearly, sunshine) and the school paper (writing). She then attended Swarthmore College where she met her husband (yes, that counts as sunshine), and wrote many, many essays and papers (more writing). Today, she divides her time between raising her 4 adorable kids (they are all sunshine!), and writing for the NIAAA (lots more writing).
Dr. Ruben Baler is a native of Argentina, fan of soccer and more specifically of Boca Juniors; he did his undergraduate studies in the Middle East, more specifically in Israel; and he derives great pleasure from studying the neurobiology of pleasure. He has two kids, 20 and 28, so when he lectures about the neuroscience of risky behaviors in adolescence, he talks from personal experience.
Now on the Chat is Dr. Antonello “Anto” Bonci, a neuroscientist who heads up NIDA’s labs. Dr. Bonci got his medical degree in Rome, Italy, and later moved to America to work at the University of California at San Francisco. He moved all the way across the country to become the Director of NIDA’s Research Program in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Bonci’s research explores how drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, affect the connections between neurons in the brain.
Now online is Dr. Ericka Boone. Dr. Boone is an expert at understanding how drugs affect the brain and behavior. While Dr. Boone currently serves as the Director for the NIH Division of Loan Repayment, prior to this position, she was a scientist working at NIDA. A large part of her work at NIDA involved translating complex scientific research into everyday language that non-scientists can easily understand. Before coming to NIDA, Dr. Boone was a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she conducted research on how chemicals in the brain help to shape the way humans bond with their mates and babies. Dr. Boone loves participating in Chat Day and is excited to answer your questions today!
Your CHAT DAY co-moderator is Dr. Maureen Boyle. Dr. Boyle is the Chief of the Science Policy Branch at NIDA. She is a neuroscientist who has also worked on how technology can be used to improve addiction treatment. Dr. Boyle is interested in how we can use scientific research to impact decision making by both individuals and society to improve health and wellbeing. In her free time she loves running, yoga, and spending time with her twin nieces. She is very excited for her second CHAT DAY!
Questions about alcohol? Erin Bryant is here from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism with some straight answers on drinking. Ms. Bryant is a science writer whose interests include medicine, mobile health apps, and pop science books with one word titles. She holds a Master’s in journalism and has written for NIH about everything from autism to alcoholism. Science runs in her family, like near-sightedness, and she has high hopes for a second season of Cosmos.
Dr. Redonna Chandler is online and ready to answer your questions. She is a psychologist who specializes in drug abuse treatment and services. She works at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences that seeks to improve the way research is conducted to improve the development of treatments – including drug treatment. She has 3 children and no pets, but a den of red tail foxes have taken up residence in her back yard. Her most interesting travel experience was spending a semester living in a remote rural village in El Salvador where there was no running water or electricity — and she slept on the ground and bathed in the river.
Dr. Wilson Compton is a psychiatrist and NIDA’s Deputy Director. He loves to study the interactions between people and their environments that contribute to drug use. He has done a lot of research focusing on the epidemiology of drug abuse, HIV prevention and co-occurring mental and drug use disorders. Dr. Compton loves the beach, and likes to spend nearly every weekend at his house in Bethany Beach, Delaware. He enjoys playing games such as bridge, scrabble, crosswords, and Sudoku.
Jes Cotto is a Health Science Policy Analyst at NIDA. She enjoys hanging out with her 2 kids, Isabella and Santiago, her husband, Dennis, and her dog, Ayla. In her spare time she loves photography, hiking, and reading.
Sara Crocoll is here throughout the day, bringing you amazing factoid after factoid to help you shatter the myths about drugs. In fact, she’s been so busy preparing for this very special day with you that she hasn’t even changed her last name to Smith yet! Yes, that’s her tossing the bouquet in the photo. By day, Sara is NIDA’s social media guru, posting facts about drugs and the latest scientific research from NIDA. By night, she hangs out with her new hubby and her fluffy Pomeranian Maximus, as well as works on her first science fiction novel.
Now available to answer your questions is Elisabeth Davis, who works on science education for NIDA. A lot of her work involves translating complex science into educational information that is understandable and meaningful to non-scientists. She helps to put drug information into Scholastic publications, which are seen in thousands of classrooms around the country. She also helps to educate doctors about the importance of helping patients with their drug behaviors. Elisabeth views drug addiction as a very personal public health issue—and she believes that education and smart policies can make a difference. Elisabeth is originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She lives with her husband and two little sons in Washington, D.C. and though the apples aren't nearly as good as in Michigan, she loves it in the nation’s capital.
Now in our chat is Dr. Bethany Deeds. She is the Acting Chief of Prevention Research Branch and is an interdisciplinary scientist. She is interested in understanding how the social environment (where we work, play, learn, and live) effects substance use and abuse and by what means it can be translated into prevention interventions. Dr. Deeds went to high school in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. When she is not enjoying her work life, you can find her enjoying her personal life —watching science fiction with her husband, crafting with her daughter, and running.
Kim DiFonzo works in the press office at NIDA. A big part of her job is setting up interviews between scientists and reporters about topics related to drug use and addiction. She translates complex science issues into language reporters use in their stories that, hopefully, is easily understood by the public. When she is not at NIDA, Kim is busy playing volleyball or on the sideline of a basketball or soccer game cheering loudly for one of her three kids. Kim grew up on Long Island, NY (where she claims still has the best pizza and bagels) and got her psychology degree from Lynchburg College in VA.
Please welcome your CHAT DAY moderator—Dr. Gaya Dowling. Dr. Dowling oversees the new ABCD Study, which will look at what affects kids’ brain development as they grow up and how that impacts important aspects of their life like how they do in school. She’s excited to moderate the CHAT again this year, a job she has done for 7 years, because it’s the most fun part of her job at NIDA! Although Dr. Dowling’s favorite subjects in school were math and science, she never expected that studying science would give her a chance to go to the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, as she did when NIDA’s work on the HBO film Addiction won an award. In her free time, she loves to play with Legos with her two kids—an eight-year old girl and a ten-year old boy. Her biggest build…the Shield Helicarrier, almost 3000 pieces.
Matthew Finger helps NIDA scientists figure out how many people are taking drugs, why they take them, and how to help prevent and treat the disease of addiction. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Xavier University and his Master's degree from the University of Denver, where he studied the international affairs. He lives in Washington with his two cats—Rosie and Darwin—and fiancé Mackenzie.
Mark Fleming started the NIDA website in 1995, and has been with us for 29 years! He established the Visual Media Unit at NIDA to provide photographic and graphic arts support for NIDA’s labs in 1986. As webmaster, he has worked to keep the NIDA websites up to date in both content and technology, and NIDA was one of the first to introduce a mobile site for phones and tablets! Today, he is monitoring your questions and making sure things go smoothly with our chat. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in zoology from Miami University in Ohio and a Master of Arts in visual communications from Ohio University. In his off time, he enjoys shooting pool, and helping with his daughter's weekend equestrian competitions.
Dr. Joseph Frascella is joining the Chat. He heads up the division of NIDA that deals with a clinical program in neuroscience, human development, and behavioral treatment for drug abuse and addiction. He is a neuroscientist interested in how the brain works, and especially in how the brain is changed by addiction. When he is not thinking about brains, he works on his own addiction to studying and playing the guitar.
Dr. Mimi Ghim is joining the Chat. Dr. Ghim works on NIDA’s Research Training and Career Development Programs for young scientists who are developing their research careers. She also serves on NIH committees that deal with biomedical workforce and other training policies. Her favorite activities when not at work are wiping out on ski slopes and “hanging out” with her 7-year old son. She is always on the search for the next adventure, which explains her avatar ---from a sacred place called Meteora in Kalampaka, Greece, which she visited in 2004.
Dr. Hal Gordon is a neuropsychologist though his first degree was in physics. A neuropsychologist is one who tries to understand what the brain is doing when someone is doing a particular behavior (e.g., taking risks, making decisions, acting impulsively) or is in a particular state (e.g., anxious, stressed). He wants to know what parts of the brain are active when someone craves a drug. And he is interested in the connection between sleeping and drugs—taking drugs to stay awake, taking drugs to fall asleep, and how does taking drugs affect our ability to sleep normally. When not thinking about brains, Hal likes to travel, dance, and play squash. Oh, and his favorite sports teams are from Pittsburgh, especially the Steelers and Penguins.
Do you have questions about drugs or the brain? Ask Dr. Steven Grant, a neuroscientist with a background in biology, chemistry, and physics. His favorite subjects in high school were English and History, but he developed a liking for science in college and went on to do post-doctoral work in brain systems and drug withdrawal. The study he is most proud of is a brain imaging study of cocaine craving that showed that substance abuse involves more than brain areas traditionally thought to be part of drug use, and opened the door to investigating the contribution of other cognitive (“thinking”) processes in addiction. He likes to read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction and is interested in the performing arts. He has two daughters—both live in Brooklyn, New York and even though they don’t appear in the show “Girls,” they write for The New York Observer and CollegeHumor.com.
Dr. Allison Hoffman is a visiting CHAT DAY scientist from the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), where she has a management job in the Office of Science. Before CTP, she was a scientist at NIDA for 8 years, so participating in CHAT DAY is like a mini homecoming with a dash of déjà vu. Dr. Hoffman lived in Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Florida before going to college at Emory University (Georgia). After college, she drove clear across the country to go to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Then, she drove back across the country to work NIDA in Baltimore, Maryland. She’s working on perfecting homemade thin crust pizzas with help from her two boys, playing with her bassador (Basset hound + Labrador), and spending too much time playing Clash of Clans while listening to punk/alternative music from the 80s.
Dr. Katia Delrahim Howlett is interested in the prevention and treatment of substance use and has focused on the promotion of healthy behaviors to combat use. As Senior Scientific Program Manager within NIDA’s Division of Extramural Research, she works with fellow colleagues on Trans-NIH Initiatives including the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Project. As a mom of three young children, she is very interested in understanding what youth and teens think about drugs and drug use and how healthcare providers can better serve their patients. She holds a Master's in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University, a Master's in Public Policy from Pepperdine University, and a Doctorate in Public Health from University of California, San Diego. When not at work, Katia runs after her three children Samara, Eliot, and Evan!
This is Setareh Kamali’s fourth Chat. She works in the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) communications office where she helps manage and develop information on mental disorders for NIMH's website and social media pages. She is ready to answer your questions related to mental health. Setareh graduated from George Washington University where she received her Master’s degree in strategic public relations. She is also a University of Maryland alumna. Go Terps! In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends and having Netflix marathons.
Meena Karithanom, MPH is joining the chat. She serves as an Epidemiologist at NIDA. Her primary responsibilities include researching, analyzing and presenting data on the use of prescription medications among young and aging populations, including geographical prescription patterns, physician prescribing habits, and patient demographics. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Administration from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from George Washington University. In her free time, she loves to travel, hone her photography skills, box and play tennis.
Dr. Mary Kautz has a broad background in behavioral pharmacology and she works in NIDA’s division of neuroscience & behavior. This division is interested in the neurobehavioral factors that underlie increased risk for and/or resilience to drug abuse and addiction. Additionally, she serves as NIDA’s liaison for a trans-NIH interagency Program with the FDA to conduct research that supports regulatory activities over tobacco products. Originally from south central Pennsylvania, she enjoys preparing (and consuming) German foods, hiking, singing in choirs, and spending time with her son and cat.
Carol Krause, M.A. is CHAT DAY’s coordinator and fills in while others on the chat take a pizza break. She is NIDA’s Communications Director and has a Master’s Degree she earned while covering the Watergate hearings many years ago. When she was a little younger, Ms. Krause worked at both the U.S. Capitol and at the White House. With a lot of help from NIDA’s scientists, she created CHAT DAY and NIDA’s National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week. She raised 2 teenagers herself, a boy and a girl, who are happy and drug free young adults. Ms. Krause has read the complete transcripts of just about every CHAT DAY and knows all about the kinds of questions kids have about drugs and drug abuse.
Michelle Kim Leff
Dr. Michelle Kim Leff is now online. Dr. Leff grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and attended Pattonville High School. Since high school, she has attended school and worked in Boston, New York City, San Antonio, Washington D.C., Seoul, South Korea, and now Baltimore. She is a child/adolescent psychiatrist by training, and works as a research facilitator/administrator at the NIDA Intramural Research Program. She lives in Baltimore Maryland with her husband and children. She enjoys running, swimming, and volunteers for a community mental health organization and for a high school mentoring program in Baltimore.
Janet Linton is one of our moderators today reviewing the questions you send in. She is an IT Specialist with NIDA’s web team and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Animation. In her job, she provides web, graphic, and social media support, and maintains the National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week site. With two teens of her own, she understands questions many teens have and the importance of being informed about the risks and consequences of drug use.
Roger Little is a neuroscientist who grew up in Vermont; he is interested in how genetics and the environment interact to predispose people to addiction, psychiatric, and neurological disorders. He has played bass guitar professionally since age 10. He and his wife Krista, who does research to develop new drugs to treat cancer, love to travel; especially to places that make wine. They have a Rottweiler named Gretel.
Dr. Jacqueline Lloyd is a scientist who studies how to help people avoid drug use and drug related problems and abuse, and how to prevent addiction, including drug-related HIV transmission. Before working at NIDA, Jacqueline worked and taught at a university, did drug prevention trainings, and worked as a social worker with children, youth, and families. Even though her favorite subjects in school were Spanish and math, Jacqueline always had an interest in “prevention” and discovering what really works to help people and prevent drug and behavioral health problems. One thing she enjoys about her work is helping scientists develop their research ideas and getting young people interested in science. Outside of work, Jacqueline enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures, as well as bike riding, dancing (especially salsa!), and just being outdoors, especially during the summertime.
Dr. Marsha Lopez’s experience runs the gamut from preclinical behavioral pharmacology (giving cocaine to rats) to military medical surveillance, but her current focus is drug epidemiology (the incidence, distribution, or control of a disease within a population) with an interest in marijuana (behavior, attitudes, policy), polysubstance use (abusing more than one kind of substance) and co-occurring psychiatric conditions (like using drugs and being depressed at the same time). While most of Marsha’s extended family lives in Argentina, she lives here with Marco (age 11), Gigi (age 8), and Halo, the crested gecko. She chose a photo of Halo as her avatar today.
Dr. Cindy Miner (seen with Galley) moved from NIDA to the Center for Tobacco Products at the Food and Drug Administration in 2011---where she helps to communicate tobacco research information that goes out to other scientists, doctors and nurses, and to the public. Because she is an expert in tobacco, she continues to join us for CHAT DAY to answer some of your questions on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Dr. Miner went to George Washington High School (in Denver) where she played on the tennis team, loved history and English, and of course--gym class. She was a metro area all-star in softball but that’s not all! As a teenager, she also loved biking, hiking, whitewater rafting, and camping in the Colorado Mountains—in fact, she has climbed most of the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. Cindy has two dogs—Portuguese Water Dogs, and she continues to enjoy many outdoor activities--including biking, hiking, skiing, kayaking, sailing, softball, volleyball, and golfing.
Joining us now is Dr. Ivan Montoya, who received his M.D. from the University of Antioquia in Colombia (in South America!) and a Masters in Public Health from The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Dr. Montoya works with scientists who are trying to create better medications for people who suffer from addiction. He also has been a consultant for the World Health Organization’s Pan American Health Organization. He likes all kinds of water sports, in particular swimming and kayaking, and also likes to play the bassoon and dance to Latin music.
Stephanie Older is NIDA’s deputy communications director. She oversees NIDA’s outreach and dissemination team and manages the Institute’s print and online publications. She also worked as NIDA’s press chief---where she enhanced NIDA’s social media presence and arranged interviews with top media outlets, including a profile piece about NIDA’s director on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Stephanie holds a law degree from the University of Baltimore as well as a B.A. in communications from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School. Before joining NIDA, she worked as Attorney-Adviser to an Associate Chief Judge at the U.S. Department of Labor. Outside of NIDA, she keeps busy with her eight-year old son, Owen, and five-year old daughter, Tessa.
Get ready for more great answers to your questions from Dr. Harold Perl. Dr. Perl works with NIDA to help us understand better ways to prevent people from suffering with drug abuse problems and to help counselors and therapists learn how to use the latest and best techniques to help people. Harold went to high school in Queens, New York where his favorite subject was History. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and his Masters/PhD from the University of Maryland. Harold has done a lot of amazing traveling including living in Jerusalem (Israel) and spending 3 months riding 13,000 miles on his motorcycle across the US and Canada. When not at work, Harold is an avid bicyclist and a double black diamond downhill skier.
Dr. Nancy Pilotte is now joining the chat. She is a neuroscientist whose expertise is in the neuroendocrine aspects of drug abuse (how hormones influence the activity of the brain) and using new, dynamic methods to identify the neural circuits that are changed by stimulants like cocaine and narcotics like prescription pain-killers as well as the long-term changes that occur in the brain as a result of repeated exposure to these drugs and their withdrawal. When she is not at work, she enjoys making homemade ice cream, sailing, and making colorful quilts and jewelry.
Dr. Michele Rankin has always been interested in how cells detect what is going on around them and focused her research on special proteins that do just that—G protein coupled receptors. Now Michele works in the Science Policy office where she communicates how NIDA research is tackling the problems associated with drug abuse and finding better ways to prevent them. She is originally from Louisiana and loves cooking healthy Cajun cuisine (gumbo, crawfish etouffee), snow skiing, and traveling.
Can addiction be passed down from your parents? Is genetics important in the science of addiction? Ask NIDA’s best genetics expert, Dr. Joni Rutter. She received her Ph.D. from Dartmouth Medical School in 1999 and joined the National Institutes of Health, studying the genetics of cancer. She moved to NIDA in 2003 and currently directs NIDA’s support of basic and clinical science research labs all over the country. She also manages a repository that stores more information and biospecimens on genetics than you can imagine---so other scientists can use them. She loves everything about science and still remembers her high school science teacher Mr. Sanders, who taught her that science is about asking the right questions and not about getting all of the answers. And---she plays a mean game of softball! A good day for her is studying laboratory science and fielding line drives at 3rd base.
Dr. Cathrine Sasek is now participating in the Chat. Dr. Sasek does many things at NIDA but her favorite is working on NIDA’s Science Education Program. She has always had a fascination with science, in particular the brain and how it causes changes in how people think and behave, and she enjoys having the opportunity to share this with teachers, parents, and kids. When she is not at work, Dr. Sasek enjoys hiking, taking photographs and entering them in competitions, and playing with her two cats.
Dr. Jeff Schulden is a psychiatrist whose work at NIDA supports research to understand trends in drug abuse in the U.S. and to understand what factors put people at risk for drug abuse and what factors protect them. Research areas of particular interest include the relationships between drug abuse and other psychological conditions, such as depression, and between drug abuse and other medical conditions, such as HIV infection. Outside of work, Jeff enjoys hiking, biking, and traveling, especially to our National Parks!
This is Dr. Joel Sherrill’s third Chat. He is with the National Institute on Mental Health, so if you have any questions about depression, ADHD or other issues about your feelings and behaviors, he is your man! He is a clinical psychologist who has done counseling with adults and kids, but he has spent most of his time focused on research. After growing up in Michigan, and then going to school and working in New York and Pennsylvania, he moved to the DC area, where he spends a lot of time complaining about how hot it is in the South. Before he came to NIMH, he focused on using research to develop and test interventions to help children and adults with depression and other problems. Now at NIMH, he helps researchers who are doing this kind of work at universities and other research centers all over the country. When not in the office, Joel can be found hanging out with friends or just hanging out at home reading a book or watching too much TV.
Get your questions ready for Dr. David Shurtleff—who serves as NIDA’s Acting Deputy Director and provides leadership in the development, implementation, and management of NIDA’s research portfolio. Dr. Shurtleff works closely with NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, to support and conduct research to improve prevention and treatment of drug use, abuse and addiction. Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Shurtleff directed the NIDA division that supports basic biomedical and behavioral science that supports research exploring mechanisms of addiction, drug craving, effects of drugs on behavior and cognition, long-term chronic effects of drugs. In his spare time, he loves playing with his two German Shepherd-mix dogs, outdoor gardening, taking vacations to exotic places, hiking, snorkeling, swimming and playing golf.
Dr. Belinda Sims is a developmental psychologist and works in NIDA's prevention research branch. At NIDA, she works with researchers from around the country who develop and test drug abuse prevention interventions for early childhood through preteen, including prenatal and infancy periods. Also, her research portfolio includes studies that look at how to get successful drug abuse prevention programs picked up and implemented in real word settings and systems like schools, communities, child welfare, health care, and others. She has one child, and when she isn't working most of her time is spent driving her daughter to school and to multiple extracurricular activities. To keep things interesting in the car, she listens to old-time radio shows like Suspense, Dragnet, and the Whistler. Her child wears headphones in the car.
Shirley Simson works in NIDA’s press office, answering questions every day from reporters about drug abuse and addiction, scheduling interviews with scientists, and writing press releases to deliver messages about substance abuse through television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and news websites. Born and raised in Maryland, Shirley has a degree in communication from the University of Michigan and struggles with who to root for during the Maryland/Michigan Big Ten games. She lives with her husband and three children in Rockville, Maryland. In her spare time, Shirley reads, goes on walks in her neighborhood, and chauffeurs her three kids to their cross country meets, lacrosse tournaments, and baseball games.
Jennifer Sizemore is the project task lead (contractor) for NIDA’s communications contract. She manages the production of NIDA’s consumer publications, including writing, editing, and process tracking. She has performed similar functions for other HHS agencies, including CDC, NIDDK, and NCI, among others. Jennifer holds Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry from Syracuse University and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, respectively, and is a certified Editor in the Life Sciences. When not at work, Jennifer enjoys cooking, crocheting, and reading. She is a life-long Washington Redskins fan and has become a fan of baseball from watching her son, Michael, play.
Please welcome Dr. Roger Sorensen to the Chat. Roger has always been fascinated by the brain, constantly wondering how it works and how it makes you become a person who is different from your sister or best friend. He was trained in neurochemistry, and at work, he spends his time thinking about how drugs of abuse change brain function and a person’s behavior. When not at work, he spends his time riding his bicycle or practicing guitar and piano. He expects that someday scientists will be able to determine how this complex organ known as the brain makes us think, feel, and be who we are.
Dr. Jack Stein is answering questions today. He is the head of our office of Science Policy and Communications, and is an expert in how communities come together to solve health problems like addiction. Before NIDA, he worked on drug abuse issues in the Executive Office of the President where he met President Obama as well as the first dog, Bo! He lives in Washington, D.C. and has performed in many local theatre productions.
Dr. Geetha Subramaniam is the deputy director of the Center for Clinical Trials Network, a division within NIDA. She and her colleagues collaborate with scientists across the U.S. to conduct clinical trials to assess the value of a number of treatments for substance use disorders. She is trained as a child/adolescent psychiatrist and an addiction psychiatrist and has conducted research studying treatments for teens and young adults who have abused marijuana and prescription opioids, among other substances. She also works with youth with substance abuse and mental health issues and their families in private practice. Fun things she likes to do when she is not working are playing with her labradoodle, going on walks/hikes, watching movies, and visiting Washington D.C.’s museums!
Dr. Dave Thomas has joined the Chat. He is an expert on pain and analgesia, where he promotes the development of new pain treatments that have little potential to produce addiction. This is especially important for teens, since sometimes they take prescription pain killers without a doctor’s prescription. He also loves “cool science.” For example, he has promoted the use of virtual reality as a treatment and research tool. Outside of work, Dave is a pastel painter, and has shown his work at galleries in the Washington-Baltimore area. Dave loves to play Frisbee Golf at his cabin in the woods of Pennsylvania. His dogs, Rex and Zoe, love to tag along with Dave in the woods.
Dr. Nora D. Volkow is now online. Dr. Volkow is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Her work has been instrumental in demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the human brain. As a research psychiatrist and scientist, Dr. Volkow pioneered the use of brain imaging to investigate the toxic effects of drugs and their addictive properties. Dr. Volkow was born in Mexico, and earned her medical degree from the National University of Mexico in Mexico City, where she received an award for best medical student of her generation. She was recently featured in a 60 Minutes profile called “Hooked,” which you can watch on the 60 Minutes site. She has been named one of Time Magazine’s “Top 100 People Who Shape our World.” Dr. Volkow is also an artist and avid runner—logging dozens of miles a week.
Whether it is experimenting with human cells in a petri dish, investigating animal behavior, or studying the effectiveness of potential medicines in people, Dr. Kevin Walton has worked in all these areas over his career as a scientist. We are lucky he is now online! His current focus is on treatments to help those who want to quit smoking. He is also working on efforts to understand more about the risks and benefits of electronic cigarettes. When not at NIDA, Kevin spends his time with his family, losing at ping pong but still able to win a pinball game here and there.
Dr. Eric Wargo is a writer who specializes in making complicated scientific research understandable and enjoyable for non-scientists. He grew up in Colorado, and after graduating from the University of Colorado he moved to Atlanta (where he got a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology) and then lived in various places in Europe—including Prague, Warsaw, and Glasgow—before settling in Washington, D.C. He lives with two highly intelligent black cats, Cindy and Pete, and in his spare time he enjoys camping, martial arts, and watching old science fiction movies.
Dr. Susan R.B. Weiss is the Director, Division of Extramural Research, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). She provides scientific guidance and oversight to a diverse staff who are responsible for program planning and development, scientific review, grants management, research training and career development. She led the NIH effort to launch a major research project known as Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study—the largest long term study of brain maturation and other health outcomes in youth. In her spare time, she does Yoga and reads novels about exotic persons and places--including science fiction.
Cora Lee Wetherington
Dr. Cora Lee Wetherington serves as NIDA’s coordinator for research on women and sex and gender differences in all areas of drug abuse. She is also a program officer in the Behavior and Cognitive Science Research Branch in the Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research where she oversees a program of extramural research focusing on a variety of human and animal laboratory topics including behavioral models of drug abuse, vulnerability to drug abuse, the behavioral effects of exposure to drugs during lifespan development, topics specific to females, and, of course, sex and gender differences. She and her husband have a son, a daughter and a beagle.
Dr. Aaron White is now here to answer your questions about alcohol. Aaron is a psychologist with our sister Institute, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. His expertise is in how alcohol affects the brain. He knows a lot about how the brain changes during the teenage years and how alcohol and other drugs affect the teen brain. He is very interested in something called “alcohol blackouts,” where people, including teenagers, who drink too much can’t remember what they did while they were drinking. His favorite things about his job are that he gets to be on the cutting edge of science, help teenagers make healthy choices about alcohol and, hopefully, keep their brains safe.