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Arnold School of Public Health

Arnold School welcomes Christina Andrews, who specializes in addiction treatment

October 28, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Christina Andrews, a long-time Arnold School collaborator, has joined the Department of Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM). A faculty member in the College of Social Work since 2012, the associate professor’s interests in addiction treatment, particularly in response to the opioid epidemic, overlap with many researchers in her new department. 

“We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Andrews join the departmental faculty,” says Ronnie Horner, professor and interim chair for the HSPM department. “She has worked with us for several years, serving as an outside member of a number of dissertation committees. In that capacity, our doctoral students and faculty members have benefited greatly from her expertise in substance abuse treatment. Now that she is a member of the faculty, we anticipate building a stronger presence in the increasingly important area of health services research of addiction research.”  

Andrews became interested in addiction treatment during her first job after earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Ithaca College in New York. During her five years as a nonprofit management consultant, she worked with agencies in the areas of community health, domestic violence, mental health and homelessness.

“Across all of these areas, substance misuse was a major challenge and major barrier to clients’ ability to achieve their goals,” Andrews says. “I saw clients facing serious financial barriers to accessing treatment and long wait lists to get into care. I became very interested in understanding how we address those barriers and help people get better.”

To learn more, Andrews earned a Master of Social Work at Boston University and then a Ph.D. in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago, where she was awarded three predoctoral fellowships. The last of these was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which would continue funding Andrews’ research on addiction treatment, often in the context of Medicaid.

For one of her first major studies, Andrews served as a co-investigator examining the impact of health reform on the accessibility and quality of substance abuse treatment. She is currently a co-investigator on two other projects that total nearly $19 million in NIDA funding: one examining financing for opioid use disorder treatment within the criminal justice system as part of the Justice Community Opioid Innovation Network Coordination Center and another focused Medicaid care plan coverage for opioid use disorder medications.

In 2016, Andrews won a Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award from NIDA and launched her first project as principal investigator. With HSPM professor and South Carolina SmartState Endowed Chair John Brooks as a mentor, Andrews is investigating whether health homes for Medicaid beneficiaries with chronic health conditions are effective in treating addiction. Amidst these larger grants, she has won several ASPIRE awards to support smaller Medicaid-focused studies.

Over time, Andrews’ research program has evolved to include how the ways that addiction treatment is organized and financed impacts service access. She also looks at gender, racial and ethnic disparities in treatment service access and the adoption of medications to treat opioid use disorder. She is particularly interested in policy responses to the opioid epidemic, especially for low-income Americans.

At the university level, Andrews’ efforts have been recognized with a Breakthrough Star Award from UofSC’s Office of the Vice President for Research. Her contributions and expertise are increasingly relied upon at the national level as evidenced by invitations to testify before congress, serve on panels (e.g., America’s Opioid Epidemic: Lessons Learned and a Way Forward), and join groups working toward solutions to the opioid crisis (e.g., Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis).

Through the Stanford-Lancet Commission, Andrews is leading an effort focused on the intersection of the North American opioid crisis and COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists have observed an increase in opioid overdoses in many states since the beginning of the pandemic – likely due to factors such as isolation, loss of employment, and other stressors that can trigger relapse and impede recovery. With this project, Andrews and her team are working to provide recommendations for addressing barriers presented by COVID-19 to ensure access to high quality opioid use disorder treatment.

The numerous and unexpected challenges that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic make Andrews’ arrival at the Arnold School even more timely. She is planning to share her interdisciplinary knowledge and experience with graduate students through both mentorship and teaching classes, such as a spring course devoted to healthcare services for treatment of opioid use disorder.

“Given the great fit with my interests in health policy and financing, when the opportunity arose to join the department, I just couldn’t pass it up,” Andrews says. “I am looking forward to getting to know my new colleagues at the Arnold School and developing new collaborations.”

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