Fellow Successfully Defends Dissertation on Prescription Drug Abuse and Doctor Shopping

Chris DelcherChris Delcher, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and fellow of the Institute for Child Health Policy, successfully defended his dissertation, entitled “Monitoring Prescription Opioid Abuse and ‘Doctor Shopping’: An Epidemiologic Perspective in Person, Place, and Time” on Thursday, June 12.

In order to help address the growing national epidemic of prescription drug abuse, Delcher conducted three in-depth studies. The first study examined the impact of Florida’s prescription drug monitoring program, which is an electronic database, on the mortality rate from prescription drug abuse. Delcher found that the program reduced the number of deaths from oxycodone overdose by 25 percent, and his efforts represent the first exploration of the impact of the database on mortality since the database was implemented in 2011. The second study examined prescription drug abuse within the Medicaid population in Texas, specifically identifying risk factors in a group of patients who utilized a large number of prescribers in order to gain access to more prescription drugs. Finally, a third study looked at how to identify patients at-risk for prescription drug abuse or dependence among Medicaid patients in Texas.

“Addiction and diversion of prescription pain medications are critical public health issues in the United States today, but, for many, these medications effectively treat pain and improve quality of life,” explained Robert Cook, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Epidemiology and a member of Delcher’s dissertation committee. “Chris did a great job trying to balance the potential use of his data to identify criminal activity with the potential to use it to improve health outcomes.”

Delcher’s interdisciplinary work draws on health outcomes research, epidemiology, toxicology and clinical and primary care medicine. His dissertation committee also included Alex Wagenaar, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy; Bruce Goldberger, Ph.D., professor and the director of toxicology in the Department of Pathology; and Mildred Maldonado-Molina, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy.

“The wide-ranging experience of my committee was a critical component in completing this work. I drew from their skill set, ranging from time series analysis to patient-level interactions,” Delcher said. “This is a high-impact public health problem, especially in Florida, my home state.”

Before enrolling in the doctoral program in epidemiology at the University of Florida, Delcher was an epidemiologist and analyst with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Health Information and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador. Delcher already has a total of 12 peer-reviewed publications and currently is coordinating a research effort to create partnerships with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to reduce prescription drug abuse in Florida.

“This is cutting-edge research,” said Maldonado-Molina, who also chaired his committee. “This project is just the beginning of a very promising career, and he has positioned himself very well to develop a strong research program to address prescription drug abuse. We are very proud of his accomplishments. Congratulations, Dr. Delcher.”