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.
  • 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.  
  • 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.
  • Barbara Oudekerk, Ph.D. - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 827-0641
    Dr. Oudekerk joined NIDA in January 2021. Within the Epidemiology Research Branch, Dr. Oudekerk is a Scientific Program Director for the NIH HEAL funded Native Collective Research Effort to Enhance Wellness (N CREW): Addressing Overdose, Substance Use, Mental Health, and Pain Program, providing expertise in a variety of areas including intervention research and substance use prevention. Prior to joining the N CREW Program, she was a Program Officer in the Prevention Research Branch where she managed research portfolios on prevention in social services, justice, and community settings and was the Lead Project Scientist for the NIH HEAL Preventing Opioid Use Disorder Research Program. She came to NIDA from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Office of Justice Programs, Department of Justice, where she was a social science statistician in the Victimization Statistics Unit. At BJS, Dr. Oudekerk directed the Victim Services Statistical Research Program, which included overseeing the National Census and Survey of Victim Service Providers and coordinating efforts to collect comprehensive national data on help-seeking and access to services among survivors of crime or abuse.  She also managed research and produced statistical reports from the National Crime Victimization Survey on topics including juvenile crime and victimization, school crime, hate crimes, subnational crime trends, and repeat victimization. Prior to BJS, Dr. Oudekerk was an American Psychological Association Executive Branch Science Fellow, during which she spent a year working at the National Institute of Justice. She completed her Ph.D. and post-doctoral research training at the University of Virginia with a focus in community and developmental psychology.
  • Steven Hafner, Sc.D. - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 443-6504
    Steven Hafner joined NIDA in January 2024 as a Scientific Program Director for the Native Collective Research Effort to Enhance Wellness (N CREW) funded by the NIH HEAL initiative.  In this role, he works closely with Native American communities and organizations to conduct community prioritized research, increase research capacity, and enhance data availability and quality.  Prior to joining NIDA, Steven was a Research Scientist with the Center for Human Identification (CHI) at the University of North Texas Heath Science Center at Fort Worth, TX.  At CHI, Steven’s work focused primarily on violence and victimization, including missing, murdered, and trafficked persons.  Prior to CHI, Steven served as a contract research assistant with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research, evaluation and development arm of the US Department of Justice.  At NIJ, he assisted with the Tribal crime, justice and safety portfolio, working on projects related to violence and victimization, as well as research capacity building. In the past, he has also collaborated with two tribal epidemiology centers – the Great Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center at the Great Plains Tribal Leaders’ Health Board in Rapid City, SD and the Northwest Tribal Epidemiology Center at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board in Portland, OR on projects of local priority.  Steven holds his BA in evolutionary anthropology from Duke University, his MA in health education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and his ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Sarah Vidal, Ph.D. - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 827-5529
    Dr. Sarah Vidal is a Program Official in the Epidemiology Research Branch where she manages research portfolios on substance use, misuse, and addiction in the context of adolescent development and family studies, youth justice, child welfare (neglect/abuse/maltreatment; pregnant and parenting people substance use), and Native American research, including the Intervention Research to Improve Native American Health (IRINAH) program. Her scientific work has focused on identifying risk and protective processes of (multi)system involvement among youth, conducting evaluations of evidence-based programs and services for youth and families, and informing policy and practice to improve individual-, community-, and systems-level outcomes. She is a member of the NIDA Racial Equity Initiative – Research Gaps and Opportunities (REI–RGO) workgroup, the NIDA Diversity Supplement Program Review Committee, and the NIH-wide Violence Research workgroup. Prior to joining NIH, she directed studies in a contract research setting, focusing on legal system and justice studies, behavioral and mental health, and social services research. More recently, Dr. Vidal served as a Scientific Review Officer in the Clinical Care and Health Interventions Branch at the NIH Center for Scientific Review. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in Human Development and Public Policy from Georgetown University and completed an NIH/NIDA T32 postdoctoral fellowship in the Division of Prevention and Community Research at Yale University School of Medicine.   
  • Jaclyn Smith, Ph.D. - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 443-7478
    Dr. Jaclyn Smith joined the Epidemiology Research Branch at NIDA in April 2023 as a Scientific Project Director for the NIH HEAL funded Native Collective Research Effort to Enhance Wellness (N CREW) Program. She works collaboratively with Native American [i.e., American Indian (AI), Alaska Native (AN), Native Hawaiian] communities and their allies as they conduct community prioritized research to address overdose, substance use, and pain, including related factors (e.g., mental health and wellness). Dr. Smith has been honored to work alongside AI/AN communities since 2005, when she supported the development of a research agenda, informed through qualitative data collection with community members, to address crime and justice issues in AI/AN communities. She also worked on the National Institute of Justice’s National Baseline Study, a study of health, wellness, and safety of AI/AN women living in Indian Country and AN communities. Over her career, Dr. Smith has been committed to the growth and wellbeing of tribal communities. She has partnered with tribal victim service programs to enhance their research capacity, worked with states to improve victim compensation services to AI/AN victims of crime, and worked with tribal grantees to strengthen their capacity to manage the financial requirements of federal awards. Dr. Smith received a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Texas and completed both her MA and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in the Criminology and Criminal Justice program.   
  • Erin Parker, Ph.D., CDR, USPHS - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 451-8506
    Dr. Erin Parker is a Program Official in the Epidemiology Research Branch and a Commander (CDR) in the U.S. Public Health Service. Her program areas include substance use predictors/transitions/trajectories, non-infectious health outcomes (e.g., overdose), older adults, and people experiencing homelessness. She is also interested in epidemiologic studies that incorporate the input of people with lived experience with substance use and studies that can inform harm reduction efforts. She serves as the NIDA Project Scientist for the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) cooperative agreement. Prior to joining NIDA in 2023, CDR Parker served as the Deputy Associate Director for Science in the Division of Overdose Prevention in CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. CDR Parker began her U.S. Public Health Service career as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at CDC. After EIS, she served as a Health Scientist in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, with a focus on older adult fall prevention, global road safety, drowning, and child injury. She subsequently joined the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention’s Senior Leadership Team as the Deputy Associate Director for Science, moving to the newly formed Division of Overdose Prevention as Deputy Associate Director for Science in 2019. CDR Parker received her B.A. degree in economics from Middlebury College and her A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Brown University, where she was a population studies trainee at the NICHD-funded Population Studies and Training Center.
  • Angela Walden, Ph.D. - Social Behavioral Scientist Administrator
    (301) 480-8358
    Dr. Angela Walden, an enrolled member of Cherokee Nation, joined the Epidemiology and Research Branch at NIDA in June 2023. She serves as a Scientific Program Director for the Native Collective Research Effort to Enhance Wellness (N CREW), where she works collaboratively with Native American communities and allies to enhance locally driven Tribal community and organizational research capacity and infrastructure to address substance use/misuse and pain through culturally grounded methods and processes. Dr. Walden brings nearly 20 years of experience to her role, including direct service provision, research, and delivery of training and education, related to efforts that aim to increase access to services and supports with underserved populations, including Native Americans. Prior to joining NIDA, Angela was the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Diversity Initiatives in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Engagement at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC). In this role, Angela created and led the Native American and Indigenous Inclusion and Belonging initiative. Angela also served as faculty at UIC in the Departments of Psychology, Medicine, and Psychiatry, where she led and served as collaborator on community-driven research projects focused on the creation, dissemination, implementation, and study of flexible strengths-based models of intervention in community settings across Chicago. Her work has also focused on systems change and collaboration. Angela is a former Native Childrens’ Research Exchange Scholar, Lauhoe: Indigenous HIV/AIDS Research Training Program Scholar, and 2022 recipient of the Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award in the category of education. Angela completed her Ph.D. in clinical and community psychology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and postdoctoral training at UIC’s Institute for Juvenile Research