Epidemiology Research Branch (ERB)

What We Do:

The mission of the Epidemiology Research Branch is to promote a national and international extramural research program that examines the impact of individual, familial, behavioral, developmental, and socio-cultural/ environmental risk and protective factors related to substance use, abuse, and addiction. Findings will be used to inform prevention and services research to reduce the burden of substance use, abuse, and addiction on the nation's public health.

Research Interests:

ERB is looking for research solutions to these questions:

  • How do we take current understandings of more general predictors of drug use outcomes and move toward more precise, individualized predictors of risk?  How do we determine the unique risk and protective factors of different subpopulations in order to identify foundations for more effective, tailored interventions?
  • How do rapidly changing technological advances (i.e. modernization) impact both drug using behaviors and our strategies for assessment, prevention, and treatment?
  • How do we best address variation in broad structural factors (e.g. policy context, shifting attitudes toward drug use, drug availability) across the population landscape to support science with real world implications?

Staff Biographies for Epidemiology Research Branch:

  • Marsha Lopez, Ph.D., MHS Branch Chief
    (301) 443-6504
    Dr. Lopez is currently Chief of the Epidemiology Research Branch. Prior to becoming Branch Chief, her program areas included major epidemiological studies and secondary data analysis, studies of the co-occurrence of drug and other psychiatric disorders, diagnostic issues pertaining to drug and other psychiatric conditions. Dr. Lopez is the Program Official for the Monitoring the Future Study, as well as an active supporter of Research Training among new investigators. After receiving her B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown University, Dr. Lopez was an Intramural Research Training Associate (IRTA) Fellow at NIDA for two years in Behavioral Pharmacology in the Preclinical Pharmacology Laboratory. She subsequently attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Department of Mental Hygiene, where she received her MHS with a concentration in Public Mental Health, and then Ph.D. with a focus on drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology. Her training was funded by an Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) from NIDA, supporting research on drug related mortality. Prior to joining the Division of Epidemiology, Services, and Prevention Research, Dr. Lopez was on staff at the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland and led a team at Walter Reed Army Medical Center conducting medical surveillance on the United States Military service members.
  • MeLisa Creamer, Ph.D., MPH - Deputy Branch Chief
    (301) 402-1933
    Dr. MeLisa Creamer is a Health Science Administrator in the Epidemiology Research Branch. Her program area includes tobacco use in marginalized populations, social media, and general epidemiology research of tobacco and substance use. Dr. Creamer also is a member of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study team, which is an ongoing longitudinal cohort study on tobacco use behavior, attitudes and beliefs, and tobacco-related health outcomes, conducted as a collaboration between NIDA and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Creamer was an ORISE Fellow in the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she focused on surveillance of tobacco products among youth and adults. She specifically worked on the National Youth Tobacco Survey team, and contributed to the 2020 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking Cessation. Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Creamer was also an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Austin and co-investigator on the Texas Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science on Youth and Young Adults. There she focused on transitions and trajectories of tobacco use among youth and young adults, including an emphasis on cognitive and affective factors related to tobacco use. She has authored peer-reviewed articles on tobacco use, and served as one of the Senior Scientific Editors of the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on E-cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults. Dr. Creamer earned her B.A. in Sociology from American University, and her M.P.H and Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Austin.
  • Kathy Etz, Ph.D. - Director of Native American Programs, Program Director
    (301) 402-1749
    Dr. Etz is the Director of the Native American Program at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, where she also serves as a Program Director in the Epidemiology Research Branch. In addition to leading efforts for AI/AN Drug Abuse research, her program area includes studies of population and clinical epidemiology in adolescence and early adulthood; psychological, familial and environmental risk and protective factors and processes and how these interact in the development of drug abuse; and the sequencing and temporal potency of risk factors that affect the development of substance abuse. Her program also supports epidemiologic research studies examining the social, cultural, environmental and historical factors related to drug use among American Indians and Alaska Natives as well as a more general focus on epidemiology and health disparities. In addition, the program includes a focus on data sharing and the support of a behavioral and social science drug abuse and HIV data archive. She is a Project Scientist on the University of Alaska at Fairbanks BUILD program. Dr. Etz received the Phillip L Smith Award for Exceptional Contribution to Research to Benefit Native Communities in 2012 from the Native Research Network. Dr. Etz received the 2018 Advances in Culture and Diversity in Prevention Science award from the Society for Prevention Research (SPR). Dr. Etz received her Ph.D. in Human Development from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in 1997. Prior to joining NIDA, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Prevention Research Center, University of Kentucky.
  • Peter Hartsock, Ph.D. - Research Scientist Officer
    (301) 402-1964
    Dr. Peter Hartsock is a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. He has many years of experience at NIDA, with expertise in epidemiological and prevention research on drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. He currently serves as a Research Scientist Officer and Program Official in the Epidemiology Research Branch, where he provides technical assistance and guidance to potential research grantees and to federal and international agencies. Since the AIDS epidemic began nearly 25 years ago, Dr. Hartsock has dedicated himself to facilitating a successful program of research in mathematical modeling of HIV and other infectious diseases, molecular epidemiology, and innovative methods in the behavioral and social sciences to characterize HIV/AIDS and other emerging and re-emerging diseases associated with drug abuse. Most recently, Dr. Hartsock has been instrumental in advancing the science of mathematical modeling efforts to determine the public health impact and cost effectiveness of making HIV testing and counseling routine in medical and clinical settings. Dr. Hartsock served with Dr. C. Everett Koop as a coauthor on the Surgeon General's Report on AIDS and was awarded the Surgeon General's Exemplary Service Medal for this and related work. Dr. Hartsock also manages international research grants on drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, and related problems. Part of this work includes the former Soviet Union where HIV is spreading faster than anywhere else on earth and where drug abuse is the principal driver of the epidemic. Dr. Hartsock serves on a number of advisory groups including the Federal Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, the UNAIDS Task Force on AIDS in the Military, and the Committees on AIDS of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Atlantic Council.
  • Heather L. Kimmel, Ph.D. - Health Scientist Administrator, Director of the PATH Study at NIH
    (301) 443-6504
    Dr. Heather Kimmel is a Health Scientist Administrator in the Epidemiology Research Branch. Her program area includes tobacco regulatory science research and marijuana policy research as well as the general epidemiology of tobacco and marijuana use, including topics of comorbidity with psychiatric disorders, polysubstance use, as well as genetic and environmental risk factors for drug use. Other areas of interest include topics related to marketing, point-of-sale, and risk perceptions of these substances. In addition, Dr. Kimmel is the Director of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study at NIH, which is an ongoing longitudinal cohort study on tobacco use behavior, attitudes and beliefs, and tobacco-related health outcomes, conducted as a collaboration between NIDA and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Kimmel was an American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. Her fellowship tenure was at the Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health Mission Area at the U.S. Geological Survey and then at the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Kimmel was an Assistant Professor in the Division of Neuropharmacology and Neurologic Diseases at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University as well as in the Department of Pharmacology at the Emory University School of Medicine. There, her research focused on the neuropharmacology and behavior of psychostimulants in animal models as well as the development of medications to treat psychostimulant addicts. At Emory, she taught courses in drug development and neuropsychopharmacology, as well as several seminar series. She has also authored peer-reviewed articles and book chapters related to the neuroscience of drug abuse and addiction. Dr. Kimmel earned her B.S. in Biology from Wake Forest University, and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Emory University.
  • Janet Kuramoto-Crawford Ph.D, MHS - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 443-8856
    Dr. Kuramoto-Crawford is a Social & Behavioral Scientist Administrator in the Epidemiology Research Branch. Her areas of interest include application of biostatistics, data science, and epidemiology and intersection of substance abuse, mental health, and suicide. She primarily supports the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, which is an ongoing longitudinal cohort study on tobacco use behavior, attitudes and beliefs, and tobacco-related health outcomes, conducted as a collaboration between NIDA and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Kuramoto-Crawford served as a health statistician within the Division of Transplantation at the Health Resources and Services Administration. From 2015-2017, she served as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the CDC assigned to the DC Department of Health and was involved in opioid overdose response. She also worked at the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and at the American Psychiatric Association as part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5 multi-site field trials team. Her Ph.D. training was funded by an individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) from NIDA to examine social network and suicide risk among individuals who uses heroin or cocaine. Dr. Kuramoto-Crawford received her B.A. in Public Health Studies from the Johns Hopkins University, and her Ph.D. in Public Health from the Department of Mental Health and concurrently her MHS in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
  • Sheba K. Dunston, EdD, MPH, CHES - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 402-1526
    Dr. Sheba Dunston is a Health Scientist Administrator in the Epidemiology Research Branch (ERB).  Her program areas in ERB will include building the HIV/AIDS program as well as helping to coordinate the health disparities and equity portfolio.

    Dr. Dunston has served as a Scientific Review Officer with NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), as well as a Program Director with NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD). Prior to NIH, she served as a Behavioral Scientist with the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this role, she facilitated the full planning and execution of question design and survey evaluation studies to test, develop and improve federal survey questions, including surveys on opioid use, teen alcohol and marijuana use, and substance use/ impaired driving.  Dr. Dunston has several years of experience in health disparities research, health education, and social and behavioral sciences research.

    Dr. Dunston received an EdD in Health Education, from Columbia University. Her dissertation focused on HIV prevention among African American women. Prior to attending Columbia, she earned an MPH from Drexel University, with a focus on community health, and a BS in Biology from Syracuse University. 
  • Keva Collier Kidemu, M.D., MBA, MPH - Medical Officer
    (301) 402-1881
    Dr. Kidemu is a Preventive Medicine and Public Health physician with a keen interest in leveraging interdisciplinary expertise to improve population health. Dr. Kidemu is a graduate of Duke University with a major in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy and minor in Chemistry and African-American studies, received her MD from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Administration and Policy from Auburn University. She served as chief resident in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), where she also earned her MPH and continued that work in the multidisciplinary UR Health Lab developing digital health solutions for primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Kidemu believes in using collaborative, system-based approaches to advance public health initiatives, as evidenced by her experience in curriculum development and lecturing on public health topics including health literacy, health disparities, smoking cessation counseling, and vaccine and USPSTF recommendations for clinical application. Dr. Kidemu lives in Fairfax, VA with her husband and three children. She is an avid reader and enjoys pencil-drawing, gardening and traveling.
  • Elyse R. Grossman, Ph.D., JD, MPP - Health Science Policy Analyst
    (301) 480-1928
    Dr. Elyse Grossman is a Health Science Policy Analyst in the Epidemiology Research Branch.  She is a public health lawyer with many years of research and analytical experience on issues of policy and law concerning substance use and alcohol consumption, particularly in areas of prevention and youth.  Her areas of interest include evaluating and understanding drug markets and the impact of drug-related laws.  Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Grossman served as the Senior Legal Policy Advisor for alcohol- and drug-related projects at a Maryland-based consulting firm and as the Project Director for a SAMHSA-funded contract.  Dr. Grossman also worked as a Policy Fellow (part-time) at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and as adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the City University of New York (CUNY).  She taught numerous classes on public health law, health care policy, and alcohol and drug misuse.  In 2019, Dr. Grossman co-authored an amicus curiae brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in TWSRA v. Thomas on behalf of the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance in support of an alcohol-related Tennessee law.  Dr. Grossman received a BA in Psychology from Cornell University, an MPP and PhD in Health Policy from UMBC, and a JD with a concentration in Health Law from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.  Her PhD dissertation focused on the criminal and health-related outcomes of youth curfew laws.  She completed a post-doctoral fellowship with the NIDA-supported Drug Dependence Epidemiology Training Program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.