Fellow in Focus is a series offering a quick look into the lives of our Injury and Violence Prevention Fellows. Tune in each month to meet a new fellow!


Name: Natalie Blackburn
Pronouns: she/her/hers
Department: Health Behavior
Hometown: Durham NC

How’d you get into injury and violence prevention work?

In 2012 I was living in Atlanta and an MPH student at Emory. I started a work-study job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Part of my work was reviewing published studies about risk characteristics for hepatitis C infection. I didn’t really know much about hep C or its risk factors at the time as I had mostly worked in HIV and sexual health. In this position, I was learning about how hepatitis C infections were trending upwards and among younger, more suburban populations of drug users. What I was seeing is that the rise in opioid/heroin use in the US was being linked to other infectious diseases and I became more interested in how to reduce hep C infections among persons injecting drugs. In time I have really come to value harm reduction and the role we play in supporting individuals in the care that suits their needs.

Tell us what projects you’re working on currently. And what makes them exciting to you?

My research centers on implementation science and substance use health services. One of my projects right now is evaluating the implementation of North Carolina’s “STOP act” – a law passed in 2017 that addressed multiple aspects of the opioid problem including opioid prescribing practices in the state. In this role, I have the opportunity to interview health officials and opioid prescribers about implementing state policy. This is where I want to be – figuring out the “how” in integrating programs and interventions into real-world settings. My goal is to identify the barriers and facilitators in integrating policy into practice so that we can be more realistic in how we address health issues like the opioid epidemic.

Where were you before you started your program at UNC?

I lived in Atlanta and was working at the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the CDC. I was on the prevention research and evaluation team, which meant I supported the evaluating of our national hepatitis testing programs by working with different health departments and other groups across the country. Additionally, I was conducting systematic reviews on Hep C risk groups in order to support the development of guidelines in hepatitis C testing.

What’s something you spend your time doing outside of work and school?

Much of my time these days is spent chasing around my 10-month-old son. He has just started crawling so I find that when I am home my eyes are on him and keeping him out of our cat’s water bowl. I also enjoy traveling  – most recently I was in Mexico City and I have grand plans to take my husband and son to Vietnam at the end of this year.

What’s your favorite 90’s movie?

My favorite movie would either be “A League of Their Own” or “Clueless”


Check out some of Natalie’s recent publications:

  1. “Characteristics of persons who inject drugs and who witness opioid overdoses in Vietnam: a cross-sectional analysis to inform future overdose prevention programs” in Harm Reduction Journal
  2. “Stay strong! keep ya head up! move on! it gets better!!!!’: resilience processes in the healthMpowerment online intervention of young black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men” in AIDS Care
  3. “Past-year prevalence of prescription opioid misuse among those 11 to 30 years of age in the United States: A systematic review and meta-analysis” in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment