Current Studies

Substance Use Among Youth

            Policy and Evaluation

Evaluation of School Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment in Massachusetts Public Schools


In 2015, Massachusetts passed a law calling for schools to offer Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) to all students statewide. MA House Bill 4056 calls for the implementation of verbal substance use screening protocols to be implemented in all public schools by 2018. As SBIRT programs are implemented in schools across the state, there is an opportunity to assess how SBIRT impacts student health and behaviors.


This project aims to evaluate the impact of school SBIRT on health and behavioral outcomes among adolescents through case-control comparisons of grades in which students receive the SBIRT screening to those who do not receive the screening that year. We will survey students to capture how school SBIRT may impact substance use behaviors and harms, as well as student knowledge, attitudes, support systems and mental health status. We will also gather feedback from SBIRT Nurse Leaders about their specific SBIRT implementation model. Results from this project will help inform effective, sustainable policy change in school-based SBIRT efforts.


Funder: Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation


Detecting Youth Drinking and Associations with Alcohol Policies via Social Media


In this study, we are developing and testing an innovative approach to public health monitoring of alcohol use and binge drinking using public social media posts. Using natural language processing, we are mining large amounts of Twitter data to produce estimates of state-level prevalence of alcohol consumption, comparing this to estimates produced from existing “gold standard” monitoring systems (the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System). We are also testing the relationship between social media metrics of alcohol use and the alcohol policy environment by assessing variations related to state level alcohol policy controls.  



Predictive Measures

Validating Adolescent Substance Use Measures

This project aims to define and disseminate a set of brief and easy to administer measures to accurately detect substance use frequency and substance-specific patient centered outcomes among adolescent populations. We developed novel questions and are validating them against criterion standard measures using self-administered electronic surveys.

Funder: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation


Youth With Chronic Medical Conditions

Trial of a Novel Brief Intervention for Substance Use Among Youth with Chronic Medical Conditions

In this project, we have developed and are testing (in a set of randomized controlled trials) a brief, electronic self-administered intervention to reduce alcohol use among youth with chronic medical conditions. The intervention is patient-centered and draws on epidemiological and ethnographic research. The project rests on a framework that posits “four legs” of influence shaping youth outcomes – patient, parent, provider and policy.

Funder: Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

Health Promotion in Transition: Effects of Web-Based Health Information on Disease Management and Alcohol Use for Youth with Type 1 Diabetes in College

In this pilot trial, we are evaluating the acceptability and efficiency of using various web platforms for engaging college students in online health-related research.  We are also conducting a compare effectiveness trial of a brief video intervention about diabetes self-management and safety risks associated with alcohol use and diabetes delivered by a peer versus a provider via online platforms to college youth with Type 1 Diabetes.  We will compare the effectiveness of each video (peer-framed versus provider framed) in changing participants knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices/plans for diabetes self-management and alcohol use before and after viewing the video.  Findings will provide preliminary information about engaging this population, experimental data about acceptability and effects of two approaches to delivering health promotion/prevention content, and will advance development of a novel intervention grounded in the behaviors, needs, and preferences of college youth with T1D.

Funder: Boston Children’s Hospital Research Faculty Council Pilot Award


Quality of Life for Youth with Chronic Illness


The Patient Voice and Participatory Research

Clinical Validation of PROMIS® Pediatric Measures in Diverse Research Networks

Clinical measures of disease used in research and healthcare delivery settings do not fully capture the impact and burden of chronic diseases and their treatment on the lives of children and adolescents. To more fully capture youth’s experiences and perspectives, the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System® (PROMIS®) Pediatric measures were designed but remain underutilized by the research and clinical communities. “Clinical Validation of PROMIS Pediatric Measures in Diverse Research Networks” aims to leverage existing data collection networks to conduct a multi-site longitudinal evaluation of PROMIS measures in children and adolescents with rheumatic disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.

As PI of Project 1, Dr. Weitzman is leading a national, multi-site study of PROMIS measures in youth with rheumatic disease (juvenile idiopathic arthritis, lupus) and their parent proxies. This research will enhance the clinical validity, meaningfulness, and usefulness of the PROMIS Pediatric measures to help promote the adoption of patient-centered measures in routine clinical care and research to improve the health of children and adolescents with chronic medical conditions.

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Leveraging social media to engage adolescent participants in patient-centered cohort research for the clinical care of rheumatic diseases


Detailed and sensitive investigations with longitudinally engaged cohorts of youth are needed to understand the multifaceted experience of chronic illness and the impact of the disease course and treatment on the developing child. To attain this, we need nimble and scalable approaches for engaging youth in regularly sharing information germane to their health. Social media may address this need: youth participation in social media is ubiquitous and large percentages of youth engage around health and social behaviors. The purpose of our project is to understand the feasibility and value of collecting social media data from a cohort of teens with a chronic rheumatic condition, to augment understanding of psychosocial risks associated with chronic illness and complement structured patient-reported and clinical metrics.  Findings will inform the nationally prioritized research goal of enabling cohort engagement and data donation for health research, and development of patient-centered interventions vital to improve outcomes.