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University receives stimulus funds for disorders research

One University department is receiving a large amount of federal dollars.

In fact, it’s the largest amount the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy (MHLP) has received from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said USF professor Roger Peters, the chair of MHLP.

The MHLP in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (BCS) received $1.46 million in two-year stimulus funds to increase its research efforts.

MHLP’s increased research is on co-occurring disorders, which can arise at the same time and lead to other disorders, specifically mental disorders and substance abuse.

“(Co-occurring disorders) is an underserved area of research in the country and the population of people involved in the co-occurring disorders is gaining increased attention,” Peters said.

The National Institute of Health (NIH), which oversees the NIDA, provided the funds through the U.S. Government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), according to the NIDA Web site.

The amount is also the largest stimulus fund USF has received from the ARRA so far, said University spokesman Michael Hoad.

It will be distributed over the next two years to help stimulate the U.S. economy through the support and advancement of scientific research, according to the NIH Web site.

“The money will be put toward expanding the core faculty and to help enhance our center of excellence,” Peters said. “We are looking to provide internal and external faculty mentors in research, enrich the infrastructure support, conference travel support, and pilot research funds.”

The primary focus in the mental health studies will be on serious depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, Peters said.

MHLP will select research study participants who have drug use disorders and a high risk for arrest, suicide and homelessness, Peters said.

Peters said the research will test the effectiveness of treatment on people who have a criminal history of substance abuse.

“Two things that will be focused on (in the study) will be trauma for female offenders and veterans coming home,” Peters said. “A higher proportion of veterans are involved in the criminal justice system than expected.”

The funds will also allow for the addition of three new faculty members in BCS to work in the MHLP, the Department of Psychology and the Department of Criminology, Peters said.

Associate professor at MHLP Paul Stiles said he will work with Peters to train the new faculty members.

“It’s very exciting because not often do you get this kind of money to develop a program like this,” Stiles said. “NIDA obviously has a lot of faith in us to mentor and develop three new faculty members.”

Stiles said they are looking to hire the new faculty in spring.

“Since it is under the stimulus grant and there are some time constraints, we are moving quickly to implement this program,” he said.

With the addition of this research study, it provides another opportunity for student involvement in research fields, Peters said.

“The research will be headed by a faculty member with a team of students,” Peters said. “We hope that after a while, students will be able to begin their own research and involve other students in the process.”

USF entered a nationwide competitive application process for the funds in May and was awarded the money in September, he said.