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Presidential Award for Effort to Reduce Violence, Alcohol and Drugs in Baltimore Neighborhoods.

PIRE Scientist Among First Recognized for 'Environmental' Solutions

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Walking through the streets of inner- city Baltimore, Debra Furr-Holden, Ph.D., could see the conditions that contributed to the alcohol and other drug use among young people and the violence that often ensued. She wanted to pinpoint environmental factors such as broken windows and the number of bars and liquor stores that children are exposed to, and clarify how those and other factors are linked to violence and drugs in those communities.

"If I can identify features of the environment that are linked with children's exposure, then it's possible to intervene on these features and have an impact on children's exposure," Furr-Holden said. "It is an entirely different approach to prevention compared to traditional efforts that target only the child."

Based on the success of this research, Furr-Holden, 32, was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President Bush at the White House on July 26, 2006. The prestigious award provides Furr- Holden with up to $500,000 each year over five years to continue in this area of research.

Only 56 scientists from throughout the country are selected each year for their early career achievements. Created in 1996, the Presidential Awards are given to scientists and engineers who show potential for leadership in their respective areas of study. A research scientist at PIRE Public Services Research Institute, Furr-Holden was nominated by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"On behalf of NIAAA, I congratulate Dr. Furr-Holden on this prestigious award," said NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "Such recognition of her work underscores the importance of comprehensive epidemiologic assessments of adolescents in high-risk environments. We look forward to Dr. Furr-Holden's continued scientific progress and contributions to the search for solutions to alcohol and drug problems."

Furr-Holden's research project, entitled "Environmental Strategies for Violence and Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention," is a longitudinal study of the residential neighborhoods in Baltimore that aims to identify environmental factors associated with increased violence and alcohol and other drug exposure to children in those communities. To achieve these goals, Furr-Holden and her research team conducted in-depth assessments of almost 1,000 city blocks within Baltimore neighborhoods.

"In the year-and-a-half that NIAAA has supported this work, we observed that some of the most underserved communities of Baltimore continue to decline," Furr-Holden said. "This award will enable our team to document this decline in the context of children's exposure to violence, alcohol and other drugs. Our goal is to identify ways to halt the decline and promote neighborhood prosperity and youth resilience."

Environmental strategies focus on solving social problems by changing the environments where problems occurs, as opposed to individual strategies, which focus on solving social problems by changing the behavior of individual people.

"As scientists, we rarely take on unconventional research methods," Furr- Holden said. "This award is valuable to our work because it acknowledges the potential contribution of this innovative approach to prevention."

Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist by training, started looking into environmental strategies as a way to prevent problems in the City of Baltimore during her undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. James Anthony.

The next phase in Furr-Holden's work will include tracking exact locations of environmental factors, everything from discarded drug vials to abandoned buildings and police presence. The eventual goal is full-scale environment- level interventions in the form of neighborhood transformations that will improve the lives of families and children, she said.

PIRE, or Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, is a national nonprofit public health research institute with centers in eight U.S. cities that is supported primarily by federal and state research and program funds.

For more information or to set up an interview with Furr-Holden, contact Michelle Blackston at (301) 755-2444 or

CONTACT: Michelle Blackston, Media Relations Manager, of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, +1-888-846-PIRE,
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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