University of South Florida

College of Behavioral and Community Sciences


SMART Lab wraps up year of conducting pioneering substance misuse research

SMART Lab members

SMART Lab members gather outside of the BayScape Bistro at Heritage Isles.

Students in the Substance Misuse and Research Traineeship (SMART) lab, an initiative of the Johnson Lab led by Department of Mental Health Law and Policy Assistant Professor Micah Johnson, PhD, recently shared their research and celebrated their achievements. The lab members not only showcased their work at the SMART Research Symposium and Banquet, but 12 of them also participated in the OneUSF Undergraduate Research Conference.

A student speaks about her research with other students

SMART trainee Jordan Barringer explains her research to other SMART trainees.

Johnson mentors the 24 students in the lab and works with them weekly for three years. Each has their own independent research project related to the predictors and consequences of substance misuse, particularly opioids missue among underserved adolescents. The program is designed for students from programs across USF who are interested in pursuing a PhD in a field related to addiction.

Elliot Santaella Aguilar

Elliot Santaella Aguilar received the Award for Excellence in Research.

During the undergraduate research conference, Elliot Santaella Aguilar, a third-year biomedical and psychology student, presented "The Effects of Structured Activity Involvement on Opioid Misuse in Justice-Involved Adolescents." Aguilar received the Award for Excellence in Research during the lab's banquet for his work on the link between community ties and whether structured community and prosocial activities are protective against opioid misuse in justice-involved adolescents. Aguilar is a volunteer translator at Iglesia Bahia Vida Church, a connection he credits with sustaining him when faced with a serious family health crisis. He will travel internationally this summer to present his SMART Lab research at the 86th annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence in Montreal.

Opioid misuse in justice-involved adolescents was a common theme in the students' research projects. Michael Fredette presented "The Effect of Parental Supervision on Opioid Misuse among Justice-Involved Adolescents," and Tamira Godfrey-Andrade presented "Community Violence Predicting Opioid Use Among Justice-involved Adolescents."

student speaks to other students

SMART trainee Kristina Banoob shares her work.

Students also presented their research related to a justice-involve adolescent's home life and environment and substance misuse. Nurimar Ortega Santiago studied how the number of positive adult relationships impacts treatment participation, Shiraz Sher analyzed 
how household substance misuse impacts opioid misuse in runaway and kicked out of home adolescents, and Dahlia Williams presented on the relationship between respect for authority figures and opioid misuse among justice-involved adolescents. Liliana Nicho shared her research on how opioid misuse within divorced and separated family structures affects borderline personality disorder traits among justice-involved adolescents.

Some research students presented was also related to mental health. Darrin Holmes evaluated opioid misuse among justice-involved adolescents with mental health struggles, and Nebiyou Daniel studied the impact of different modalities of mental health treatment on drug treatment program participation.

At the conference, Jasmin Pruthi shared an analysis of the role of insurance coverage and healthcare access in opioid misuse in justice-involved adolescents. Dylanis López Ruiz presented "Analyzing the Association of School Exclusion Disciplines on Opioid Misuse Among Justice-Involved Adolescents" and Elian N. Ruiz-Arevalo presented "The Association between Poly-victimization and Opioid Misuse Among Justice-Involved Adolescents."

James-Angelo Suarez

James-Angelo Suarez received the Innovator in Leadership Award.

James-Angelo Suarez, SMART Lab assistant director and USF doctoral student, was honored with the Innovator in Leadership Award for mentoring SMART trainees in weekly sessions and preparing them to enter graduate study in research science. Suarez holds an Master's in Public Health with a concentration in behavioral health from the USF College of Public Health. His research is on effective behavioral health practices in Title I public schools.

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The Mission of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) is to advance knowledge through interdisciplinary teaching, research, and service that improves the capacity of individuals, families, and diverse communities to promote productive, satisfying, healthy, and safe lives across the lifespan. CBCS envisions the college as a globally recognized leader that creates innovative solutions to complex conditions that affect the behavior and well-being of individuals, families, and diverse communities.