UNC grad student to explore link between substance use disorders, firearm-related suicide  

September 23, 2019

Do substance use disorders and long-term opioid therapy have a connection with firearm-related suicide?

Josie Caves Sivaraman

Josie Caves Sivaraman

Josie Caves Sivaraman, a doctoral student of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and graduate research assistant at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, will use a $25,000 grant from the Schwab Charitable Fund, made possible by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, to investigate this question among Medicaid-insured North Carolinians.

Additionally, the study will explore how specific mental health diagnoses — especially depression and generalized anxiety disorder — might change the association between substance use disorder and gun suicide.

Sivaraman’s study is among $9.8 million in grants announced by the collaborative, which will fund 17 research projects producing evidence on firearm-related violence in America. Collectively, the grants are among the largest funding awards for gun policy research since the federal government ceased funding this area of research more than two decades ago. Approximately 38,000 deaths and 115,000 injuries related to firearms occur each year in the United States.

“These research projects, selected first and foremost for their rigor, will generate evidence for informing policy that protects the public and preserves the rights of responsible gun owners,” said Andrew Morral, director of the National Collaborative for Gun Violence Research.

For her project, Sivaraman will link 2014-2017 data on suicide victims from the North Carolina Violent Death Reporting System to state Medicaid claims data for the same period. Then, she will analyze the claims data to determine the incidence of substance use disorder and mental health diagnoses while also exploring several measures of long-term opioid use.

“I am very pleased to be able to use the North Carolina Violent Death Reporting System for this work,” Sivaraman said. “It is an excellent state resource for violence prevention research, and the people at the Injury and Violence Prevention Branch at the Division for Public Health have always been great collaborators and supporters of junior researchers like myself.”

In 2017, Sivaraman was recognized with IntraHealth International’s Raluca Iosif Intimate Partner Violence Research Award.

“We are very proud of Josie’s success,” said her dissertation adviser, Steve Marshall, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and director of the Injury Research Prevention Center. “Her research is one of only four dissertations nationwide selected for funding by the National Collaborative for Gun Violence Research.”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Schwab Charitable or the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.

Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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