Our communications team had a chance to sit down and interview Dr. Becky Naumann to discuss her work and how she got into the field of public health research. This is the first “Our Experts” interview–look for more articles highlighting our core and affiliate faculty rockstars in the future.

Learn more about the critical work of IPRC core and affiliate faculty.

What is your latest project?

I’m currently working on a project that uses a systems science approach to examine opioid use disorder treatment capacity in NC. Tools from systems science can help us understand the web of interconnected factors that drive trends or problems we are interested in. In this case, we’re using systems tools to examine the structure and functioning of the opioid use disorder treatment system in NC with the goal of better understanding the gaps we see between those seeking vs. actually able to access treatment.

Tell us about the potential impact a current or recent project could have (or has had) on research, practice, or the wider community.

In addition to studying opioid use and opioid use disorders, I’m involved in a variety of research projects with the UNC-based Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety. The Center is focused on advancing transportation safety through a systems approach. We recently completed a project focused on better understanding the increase in pedestrian death rates that we’ve seen across the U.S. Using a multidisciplinary, stakeholder-engaged approach involving systems mapping, we improved hypotheses about the interconnected factors underneath the death rate increase. At the end of the project, we not only developed richer hypotheses to explore from a research perspective, but many new partnerships also developed, as stakeholders identified natural synergies in their work through the mapping process.

Share about a project you’ve completed that you’re really proud of.  

We recently completed an evaluation of the NC Harm Reduction Coalition’s community-based naloxone distribution program. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that rapidly reverses opioid overdose, and the Harm Reduction Coalition does critical overdose prevention work by distributing naloxone across the state to those at high-risk of overdose. We were able to evaluate and estimate the impact of their program, in terms of lives and costs saved.

What excites you about your work?

One of the best parts of my job is working with researchers from a variety of different disciplines on important injury topics. It creates an environment that facilitates continuous learning and viewing a problem from different perspectives. Another element of my work that keeps me energized are the many opportunities afforded through the IPRC to have a real impact through research dissemination to key partners and community outreach activities.

Describe a moment that put you on the path to the work that you do now.

As an undergraduate student, I completed an internship with the Environmental Health Department at the Bristol Bay Area Hospital in Dillingham, Alaska. I was responsible for updating and analyzing several years of injury and death data for the surrounding Alaskan region so that the department’s injury prevention program could evaluate their efforts and reexamine their priorities. The experience was invaluable—not only because of the foundational public health and epidemiology skills I acquired through real world experience, but more importantly because I was able to see this work translate to public health action. The department used the results to help determine the types, locations, and frequency of life-saving prevention programs that would be implemented, including all-terrain vehicle helmet distribution programs and carbon monoxide detector distribution and education programs for pilots. Seeing the direct impact that public health can have on the lives of people during my internship experience inspired me to pursue a career in epidemiology.

What’s one way that you’ve engaged community stakeholders in your work lately?

As I mentioned above, the pedestrian systems research we’ve done has heavily involved stakeholder engagement. Bringing a variety of perspectives to examine core assumptions, uncertainties, and beliefs underlying a complex problem, like pedestrian deaths over time, allows for a truly holistic look at the problem. The pedestrian systems sessions conducted as part of that project involved persons who work in transit (local and state), local and state planners and pedestrian/bicycle coordinators, state Department of Transportation engineers, public health practitioners, law enforcement, firefighters, journalists, physicians, persons working for major automakers, local elected officials, and advocates, among others. The structured systems approaches and tools we used during these stakeholder-engaged sessions helped strengthen dialogue among those instrumental to intervening on the problem, facilitated partnership creation, and allowed for rich discussions on potential solutions.

If you had to describe your research in 6 words, what would they be?

Understand the system generating the injury

How do you spend your time when you’re not at IPRC or Gillings?

I’m often found outside with my 2 kids (a 4 year-old and a nearly 2 year-old) and my husband. We’re always on the hunt for new trails and new parks!

Learn from Dr. Naumann’s work by checking out her key publications:

  1. Naumann RB, Heiny S, Evenson KR, LaJeunesse S, Cooper JF, Doggett S, Marshall SW. Organizational networks in road safety: case studies of U.S. Vision Zero cities. Traffic Injury Prevention. 2019;20(4):378-385.
  2. Naumann RB, Austin AE, Sheble L, Lich KH. System dynamics applications to injury and violence prevention: a systematic review. Current Epidemiology Reports. 2019;6(2):248-262.
  3. Naumann RB, Roberts AW, Marshall SW, Skinner AC. Evaluation of a Medicaid lock-in program: Increased use of opioid use disorder treatment but no impact on opioid overdose risk. Medical Care. 2019;57(3):213-217.
  4. Ranapurwala SI, Naumann RB, Austin AE, Dasgupta N, Marshall SW. Methodologic limitations of prescription opioid safety research and recommendations for improving the evidence base. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. 2019;28:4-12.
  5. Naumann RB, Marshall SW, Gottfredson NC, Lund JL, Ringwalt C, Skinner AC. Trajectories of dispensed prescription opioids among beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicaid controlled substance “lock-in” program. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. 2019;28:16-24.
  6. Ranapuwala SI, Shanahan ME, Alexandridis AA, Proescholdbell S, Naumann RB, Edwards D, Marshall SW. Opioid overdose mortality among former North Carolina inmates: 2000-2015. American Journal of Public Health. 2018;108:1207-1213.
  7. Naumann RB, Marshall SW, Lund JL, Gottfredson NC, Ringwalt C, Skinner AC. Evaluating short- and long-term impacts of a Medicaid “lock-in” program on opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions dispensed to beneficiaries. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2018;182:112-119.
  8. Naumann RB, Marshall SW, Proescholdbell SK, Austin A, Creppage K. Impact of North Carolina’s motorcycle helmet law on hospital admissions and charges for care of traumatic brain injury. North Carolina Medical Journal 2015;76(2):70-75.