Campus News

SPIA faculty member wages fight against drugs, addiction epidemic

Amanda Abraham is an assistant professor of public administration and policy in UGA's School of Public and International Affairs.



Amanda Abraham

Assistant Professor

  • Public Administration and Policy Department, School of Public and International Affairs
  • NRSA Post-Doctoral Fellow, Health Services Research, UGA, 2007-2010
  • Ph.D., Sociology, Louisiana State University, 2006
  • M.A., Sociology, Louisiana State University, 2004
  • B.A., Sociology, UGA, 1998
  • At UGA: 11 years (four as a tenure-track faculty member)

By Shannon Adams

Amanda Abraham is pushing back against the opioid epidemic.

Abraham, an assistant professor in the public administration and policy department in UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs, is studying ways to fight the drastic increase in opioid-related overdose deaths over the past 15 years.

Her policy research focuses on improving the accessibility and quality of substance use disorder treatment in the U.S.

“I want people to see addiction as a legitimate chronic medical disease and for people to have access to affordable care, because many people don’t,” she said. “You can get really good care, but in most cases you have to pay a substantial amount of money to do so, and that shouldn’t be the case.”

Abraham, who earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from UGA, is currently teaching a course in program evaluation and working on several research projects. They run the gamut on addiction, from educating health care professionals about screening and brief intervention for alcohol and drug use to a study on whether or not insurers are complying with parity regulations regarding adolescent care for mental health and addiction.

All of her work aims to reduce the stigma of and improve care for people suffering from substance use disorders.

The rate of deaths due to opioid overdose has increased by more than 200 percent over the past 15 years, and overdose deaths related to heroin more than tripled from 2011 to 2014. Despite this, Abraham said that quality and accessibility of care in the U.S. remains low for many Americans suffering from opioid use disorders, particularly Medicaid enrollees.

“There’s been a great deal of stigma attached to substance abuse treatment, and so the field is behind many other areas of medicine in terms of research and adoption of evidence-based practices,” she said. “Substance abuse disorder treatment has been isolated from mainstream health care so historically public and private insurers have either not covered substance abuse treatment or imposed limits on treatment services that were more restrictive than limits placed on medical and surgical services.”

Abraham’s research combats this issue.

The National Drug Abuse Treatment System Survey, one of the projects she works on with principal investigator Peter Friedmann, examines the impact of health reform on the accessibility and quality of substance use disorder treatment using a nationally representative sample of specialty substance use disorder treatment programs in the U.S. This study includes interviews with state agencies that oversee substance use disorder treatment, Medicaid agencies and state insurance commissioners.

Another line of Abraham’s research, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and partnering with Jayani Jayawardhana, Matt Perri and Henry Young in the College of Pharmacy and David Bradford in SPIA, looks at the impact of Medicaid policy on inappropriate prescription of opioids in Georgia. She also has a Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment training grant with which she is training social work, pharmacy and psychology students at UGA and Georgia State to use SBIRT.

Her goal is to identify effective policies and improve treatment to help patients with substance use disorders receive the care they need.

“In some cases people get kicked out of treatment for relapsing,” Abraham said. “Would you kick out a patient who didn’t comply with their diabetes regimen? Would a primary care physician say, ‘I’m done with you?’ ”

Abraham’s research seeks to eliminate such disparities in the treatment of substance use disorders.