Melissa Ward

Project Title: Examining barriers to accessing medication-assisted treatment among women with opioid use disorder: A mixed-methods pilot study

The opioid epidemic is a national public health emergency; more than 130 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose and national projections suggest the death toll may reach half a million lives over the next decade. Women are more likely to experience chronic pain and are therefore prescribed opioids more frequently compared to men, creating a gateway to opioid dependence. Because women are more likely to be primary caregivers, the impact of opioid use disorder (OUD) among women extends to their families and children. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is recognized as the gold standard for treating OUD, but access is not equitable and the NIH has noted the importance of gender-specific strategies to improve access to MAT for women with OUD. The objective of this study is to conduct a rigorous mixed methods analysis of the key factors determining women’s access to MAT to inform the development of an intervention that engages both clinical and community partners in reducing barriers to care. Methods will include in-depth interviews with women who have OUD, as well as with healthcare providers and social workers. Additionally, areas where women are most in need of MAT services will be identified from EMS data based on the locations of opioid overdoses, and community-level factors associated with the availability of MAT facilities in these areas will be examined.

Research Interests

Women’s Health, Opioids, HIV/AIDS, Health Disparities, Social Determinants of Health

Postdoctoral Associate
Community-Based Research Institute

Melissa Ward is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Community-Based Research Institute, where she coordinates and manages the Research Infrastructure Core for FIU’s Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI). A social epidemiologist by training, her research interests include disparities in access to substance abuse treatment and women’s health. She has extensive experience in health equity research and program management, and has provided technical support for numerous projects sponsored by federal and international agencies. From 2016-2017, she participated in the inaugural cohort of FIU’s Presidential Leadership Program. She has worked at FIU since 2013; prior to joining the FIU-RCMI team in 2018, she worked as a Research Analyst and Medical Simulation Manager in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. From 2011-2013, Melissa worked in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University (GW) coordinating monitoring and evaluation for the Medical Education Partnership Initiative, a $130 million international health program in 12 African countries administered by the Department of State, HRSA, and NIH. In 2010, she completed a GW Global Health Service Fellowship in the Public Health Information and GIS Unit at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

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