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Project Summary: Urban youth in the United States are more likely to be exposed to licit and illicit substances, experience higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and live in under-resourced areas. Such a disparity leaves urban youth at risk of poorer health outcomes than their counterparts. Since youth substance use is on the rise, it is imperative for innovative methods to be utilized in order to tackle this complex issue.


The association between substance use, neighborhood characteristics, and mental health outcomes in youth is emerging in the literature yet disparities continue to impact youth in urban communities. Paterson, New Jersey is a northeastern, urban community that has one the highest rates of substance abuse in the nation.


Youth living in Paterson are overly exposed to drug use in their neighborhoods and have extreme access to substances, leaving them more at risk to initiate use at earlier ages and more likely to become dependent into adulthood. My research in this community has shown that neighborhood and community-level characteristics, in addition to depressive and anxiety symptoms among youth, can be key facilitators to early substance use.


Previous research has overwhelmingly placed the blame on individuals, particularly youth, as opposed to acknowledging the systemic structures and the environmental context in which youth are nested. Although substance use prevention interventions exist, youth who are the most vulnerable and often the hardest to reach, are not engaged in prevention interventions or connected to resources. In order to reach this population, I propose to use an innovative method, venue-based sampling, to recruit at-risk youth.


The research addresses these specific aims: Aim 1: To examine the association between neighborhood characteristics, substance use, and mental health symptoms among Paterson youth using quantitative and qualitative methods. Aim 2: Use findings from Aim 1 to inform the adaptation of a community-based and evidence-based substance use prevention intervention for Paterson youth. Aim 3: Pilot the intervention on a sample of Paterson youth. We hypothesize that there will be significant differences in risk and protective factors by race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status among Paterson youth. 

Acknowledgments: This study is supported by the National Institutes of Health Director's Early Independence Award (DP5OD029636)

Participant Recruitment Anticipated to Begin: Summer 2021


Urban youth in the United States are more likely to be exposed to licit and illicit substances, experience higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms, and live in under-resourced areas. Such a disparity leaves urban youth at risk of poorer health outcomes than their counterparts. Since youth substance use is on the rise, it is imperative for innovative methods to be utilized in order to tackle this complex issue.



Shifting from “Community-Placed” to “Community-Based” Research to Advance Health Equity: A Case Study of the Heatwaves, Housing, and Health: Increasing Climate Resiliency in Detroit (HHH) Partnership

  • Aim: Heatwaves, Housing, and Health: Increasing Climate Resiliency in Detroit (HHH) partnership engaged relevant communities by integrating a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach.

  • Outcome: Evaluations of the partnership over 2 years show community involvement in research; enhanced capacities; success in securing new grant funding; and ways that CBPR strengthened the validity, relevance, and translation of research.


Camden Neighborhood Change Study Interim Report

  • Aim: Initiate a project to assess the social and economic impacts of changing real estate markets in Camden neighborhoods. The findings will be used to propose strategies for maximizing community benefits and reducing or eliminating community disadvantages associated
    with disinvestment and reinvestment in Camden’s neighborhoods.


Addressing diesel bus pollution and its health consequences in Northern Manhattan, New York: West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., and the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health

  • Aim: Conversion of New York City bus fleet to clean diesel

  • The WE ACT partnership undertook detailed GIS mapping that graphically portrayed the disproportionate burden of asthma hospitalizations in Northern Manhattan, as well as the location of bus depots and other emission sources in relation to the public schools, hospitals, and other key sites. The signature aspect of the partnership’s research, though, involved training high-school-aged youth to participate in investigations of exposure rates to fine particulate matter commonly found in vehicle exhaust.

  • Outcome: Establishment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of permanent air monitoring in Harlem and other “hot spots”
    locally and nationally

Reintegrating Drug Users Leaving Jail and Prison: Harlem Community and Academic Partnership

  • Aim: reframe the issue of those who were in prison or jail reenter the community into a public health light and focused on changing harmful policies and developing programs to support successful reintegration and prevent re-incarceration

  • Research Methods: conducted a review of the literature and media coverage and undertook secondary analysis of public data on substance use and incarceration.

    • Conducted focus groups with 36 substance users and former inmates and a survey of 79 substance abuse service providers. This research revealed key policies and relea

  • Outcome: Passage of a bill by the New York State Legislature that reinstated Medicaid benefits to inmates upon their release, replacing a policy that terminated benefits upon incarceration

    • Passage by the New York City Council of Local Law 54 mandating the Department of Correction to provide expanded discharge planning services to people leaving jail

    • Department of Correction decided to begin releasing many more inmates during daylight hours rather than after midnight and offering people leaving jail “a bus ride to a drug treatment, housing, or employment program rather than release in a subway stop frequented by drug dealers, prostitutes, and a Dunkin’ Donuts outlet.


Improving school conditions by changing public policy in South Los Angeles: The Community Coalition Partnership

  • Research Methods: randomly sampled, door-to-door, neighborhood needs assessments; GIS mapping; and secondary data analysis

  • Outcome: Reopening by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) of repair and construction contracts granted by a $2.4 billion school bond (Proposition BB), resulting in redirection of $100 million in school bond monies from wealthier schools to those in South Los Angeles

    • Allocation of $153 million in new funds for additional schools in South Los Angeles and other inner-city communities.

  • Noted: “Campaign to Rebuild South Central LA without Liquor Stores,” which in turn was credited with preventing the rebuilding of 150 alcohol outlets and helping spur the conversion of 44 liquor outlets to community-friendly businesses such as laundromats.


Addressing food insecurity in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point: The Literacy for Environmental Justice Partnership

  • Research Findings: Developed and conducted an initial community survey of 130 residents, asking about their needs and desires
    in relation to local markets, health and nutrition behaviors and habits, and what it would take to get them to shop locally instead of
    outside the community.

    • Used store-shelf diagramming to determine how much space in local stores was devoted to processed foods and to tobacco, liquor, and other products.

    • Conducted in-depth interviews with merchants at five local stores and utilized GIS mapping to display the location of corner stores, supermarkets, transportation routes, and relevant community demographics

  • Outcome: Adoption by several city agencies of a voluntary policy creating the Good Neighbor Program to provide incentives for corner stores that increase access to healthy foods and decrease shelf space for alcohol and tobacco products (four stores had become “good neighbors” by 2007, with five more slated to do so in 2008–09)

    • Passage and signing of AB 2384 in 2006, modeled on the Good Neighbor Program (albeit without funding appropriation), to establish a statewide Healthy Food Purchase pilot program to improve the supply of healthy choices in small corner stores.


Dr. Robert J. Reid

Principal Investigator of P-CASA; Montclair  


Andriana Herrera

Project Manager for P-CASA; Montclair


Jim Walsh

Chief Operating Officer/ Director of Community Outreach of Oasis


Tenee Joyner

Program Coordinator for MAPP; City of Paterson


Christina Pagan

Director of Paterson Youth Services Bureau


Stephanie Drag

Director of The Center for Alcohol and Drug Resources


Evelyn Pena

District Wide Community Outreach & Special Projects Coordinator Paterson Public Schools


Jada Fulmore

Director of NJ Reentry           


Zellie Thomas

Organizer/Activist of Black Lives Matter Paterson


Gisele Gaulden

Director of Camp YDP


Sharieff Ali Bugg

Executive Director of Growing in Grace Counseling Group


Fhameda Sultan

Linda Rodriguez

Ayden Ramos-Schneider

Ash MacCracken

Ivan Malave

Nasser Eid