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Our projects

Improving understanding, prevention and treatment

Our research projects are designed to increase the knowledge base around the effective prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders.

Participate in a study

It is through research that we expand existing knowledge and understanding of mental illness and substance use and can develop better ways to prevent and treat those who are affected.

Some of our research studies are seeking participants, are mid-trial or are conducting follow-up.

Current projects

Australian longitudinal study of heroin dependence: An 18-20-year prospective cohort study of mortality, abstinence, psychiatric and physical health comorbidity.

Heroin dependence is remarkably persistent, and in many cases it is a lifelong condition with a high mortality rate. Yet, the natural history of heroin dependence has rarely been studied. ATOSis a landmark Australian cohort study examining outcomes from heroin dependence. 615 participants were recruited to the study in 2001-2002 and followed up over three years.

The 11-year follow-up commenced in 2012 and examined mortality rates, remission rates, criminal histories and levels of psychopathology; predictive factors of long term remission, mortality, criminality; and the health service utilisation associated with heroin use careers.

This study is currently contacting interviews for the 18-20 year follow-up.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information contact Dr Christina Marel at christina.marel@sydney.edu.au.

Evaluation of the Central Australian Youth Link Up Project (CAYLUS).

Researchers from the Matilda Centre are providing assistance to CAYLUS in maintaining a rolling monitoring and evaluation process for the activities it runs through the CAYLUS Youth Worker Brokerage. The project will examine the ongoing impact and perceived impact of programs and activities supported by this brokerage on local level community crime (particularly crime involving young people) and petrol sniffing.

Funded by CAYLUS.

For more information about this project contact Dr Christina Marel at christina.marel@sydney.edu.au.

For more information about CAYLUS, please visit caylus.org.au

Pathways to prevention: The effectiveness of universal and selective prevention in altering developmental pathways to alcohol and cannabis related harms in young adults.

CAP is a school-based prevention initiative targeting alcohol and drug use. The CAP study was the first ever randomised control trial of a comprehensive prevention approach combining both universal (Climate; delivered to all students) and selective (Preventure; delivered to high-risk students) intervention techniques.

Twenty-six schools and 2,190 year 8 participants were recruited to the CAP trial in 2012. All students were followed up for 3 years post baseline and a long-term 7-year follow up is currently underway. 

This long-term follow up project will be the first in the world to examine whether combining universal and selective drug prevention strategies enhances durability of effects in the longer-term, over a 7-year period extending from adolescence and the completion of secondary school and into the critical transition period of early adulthood. 

The findings will inform policy nationally and internationally, as economic modelling suggests substantial societal benefit can be gained from even modest reductions in drug and alcohol use.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information contact Anna Smout at anna.smout@sydney.edu.au.

capstudy.org.au

Internet-based prevention for anxiety, depression and substance use in young Australians

This study evaluates an integrative approach known as the Climate Schools Combined (CSC) intervention is more effective in reducing problems and symptoms associated with substance use and mental health disorders compared to the stand-alone interventions and school-based health education as usual.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information contact Dr Louise Birrell at louise.birrell@sydney.edu.au.

cscstudy.org.au

An integrated online intervention for students and parents to prevent alcohol and cannabis-related harms among adolescents.

This study investigates the first online alcohol and substance use prevention program targeted at both students and their parents. Students will receive the Climate Schools substance use modules during their health classes, while their parents will be asked to view webinars, rank rules and access their own modules/summaries in line with the student program from home. The attitudes and behaviours of students and parents towards alcohol and cannabis will be assessed over three years, to investigate the influence of the Climate Schools Plus (CSP) program on these outcomes.

This evidence-based intervention has the potential to provide a sustainable and scalable improvement to the well-being of young Australians, and to reduce the substantial costs associated with substance use.

Funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information contact Chloe Conroy at chloe.conroy@sydney.edu.au.

climateschoolsplus.org.au

National Comorbidity Guidelines: Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings (2nd Edition)

Evidence-based resource to increase the knowledge, skills and capacity of clinicians to manage and treat co-occurring mental and substance use conditions.

Comorbidity Guidelines and Online Training Program

Interactive website and online training program based on the Comorbidity Guidelines content, aimed at supporting the uptake of the Guidelines into clinical practice.

For more information, please contact Erin Madden at erin.madden@sydney.edu.au.

comorbidityguidelines.org.au

Randomised controlled trial of an integrated cognitive-behavioural therapy for the treatment of co-occurring post traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder in young people.

It is estimated that 80% of adolescents have experienced at least one traumatic event and one in seven suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For 50% of these adolescents, the course of their illness is further complicated by a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD), which frequently develops as a consequence of repeated “self-medication” of PTSD symptoms. Once established, both disorders serve to maintain and exacerbate the other, leading to a chronic course of illness and significant treatment complications. This trial examines the efficacy of two integrated psychological therapies for adolescents aged 12-21 years who are experiencing traumatic stress and using alcohol or other drugs. 

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

This study is currently recruiting.

For more information please contact Dr Natalie Peach at natalie.peach@sydney.edu.au.

copea.org.au

Ongoing maintenance, optimisation, development and promotion. 

Cracks in the Ice provides trusted, evidence-based information about crystal methamphetamine (ice) for family and friends, community and health professionals. The online toolkit was informed by input from over 500 members of the Australian community.

Funded by Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information please contact Dr Steph Kershaw at steph.kershaw@sydney.edu.au.

cracksintheice.org.au

Development of resources to prevent methamphetamine ('ice') related harms in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Develop a culturally appropriate central hub for resources, programs and information.

Funded by Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information please contact Dr Steph Kershaw at steph.kershaw@sydney.edu.au.

cracksintheice.org.au

Comprehensive evaluation of the EQUIPS programs in NSW Correctional Settings.

Funded by the Department of Justice (NSW).

For more information please contact Dr Emma Barrett at emma.barrett@sydney.edu.au.

Healthy, wealthy and wise: The long-term effectiveness of a combined prevention model for anxiety, depression and substance use in adolescents.

After following one the largest adolescent cohorts in Australia from year 8 to 10 within the Climate Schools Combined project, the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise study continues to follow these individuals until 2021, as they make the critical transition from secondary school into early adulthood. More specifically, this landmark study will allow the long-term durability and cost-effectiveness of school-based programs for substance use, anxiety and depression to be assessed.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information contact Dr Louise Birrell at louise.birrell@sydney.edu.au.

The Health4Life Initiative: A cluster randomised controlled trial of an eHealth school-based program targeting multiple lifestyle risk behaviours among young Australians

The Health4Life Initiative is a web- and app-based intervention that aims to empower young people to improve their physical and mental health and to prevent chronic disease later in life. Based on the best available evidence and aligned with the Australian Health and Physical Education curriculum and NSW PDHPE curriculum, the Health4Life Initiative encourages secondary school students to: 

  • be physically active
  • eat healthily
  • adopt healthy sleep habits
  • limit their sedentary recreational screen time
  • remain alcohol and smoke-free

It is the first intervention of its kind to concurrently address these “Big 6” behaviours among adolescents, prior to the onset of chronic disease.

The Health4Life Initiative is currently being trialled in 71 schools across NSW, QLD and WA.

Funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation

For more information please contact Dr Lauren Gardner at lauren.gardner@sydney.edu.au.

health4life.org.au

Making inroads: trial of an innovative early intervention to interrupt the cycle of anxiety and drinking in young Australians.

Anxiety and alcohol use disorders are two common and debilitating disorders that often co-occur. If left untreated, these conditions can fuel each other in a self-perpetuating cycle, leading to more severe symptoms and greater impairment. Typical onset of these disorders is between adolescence and early adulthood, with anxiety symptoms usually emerging earlier and marking a particular risk for harmful alcohol use and progression to alcohol use disorder. The unique challenges associated with the transition to adulthood, combined with the emergence of anxiety and alcohol use disorder symptoms, require a developmentally-targeted early intervention to empower young adults, enhance anxiety coping skills, and prevent the escalation of drinking.

The Inroads program is a therapist-supported, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)-based, internet-delivered early intervention for young adults aged 17 to 24 years that simultaneously targets anxiety symptoms, alcohol use, and the interconnections between them. The program has been adapted from our effective Combined Alcohol and Social Phobia (CASP) cognitive behavioural therapy program for adults. Participants are guided through five sequential modules over a 5-week period, with automated email and text reminders to complete program modules and monitoring of drinking and anxiety. Therapist support will be provided via emails and text/phone contact providing personalised feedback, trouble-shooting, and activity suggestions aligned to module content

Funded by the Australian Rotary Health, and Society of Mental Health Research Early Career Researcher Fellowship to Lexine Stapinski

For more information please contact Dr Lexine Stapinski at lexine.stapinski@sydney.edu.au.

inroads.org.au

Development, maintenance and dissemination of online evidence-based substance use prevention resources for teachers, parents and students. 

The Positive Choices portal was developed in consultation with education and drug and alcohol experts, as well as target users (teachers, parents and students). Research literature and drug education websites were systematically reviewed to identify resources meeting pre-specified inclusion criteria for relevance and quality. The Positive Choices portal was launched in December 2015 as part of the Australian Government’s drug education and prevention strategy. Regular review and scoping is conducted to ensure the information and resource database is up-to-date, and training opportunities are provided through the quarterly Positive Choices webinar series.

Funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information please contact Dr Smriti Nepal at smriti.nepal@sydney.edu.au.

positivechoices.org.au

Positive Choices to prevent alcohol and drug-related harms among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders: user testing, development, expansion and implementation

This project involves the development of culturally appropriate school-based resources to prevent drug-related harms among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The online portal development and resources are guided by an Expert Advisory Group and have been developed in consultation and collaboration with schools, teachers and young Indigenous Australians. The online portal facilitatse dissemination of information and evidence-based approaches to prevent drug-related harms among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information please contact Dr Lexine Stapinski at lexine.stapinski@sydney.edu.au.

positivechoices.org.au

Accredited facilitator training for psychologists, youth workers and school staff

The Preventure prgram is a brief personality-targeted program in preventing the escalation of anxiety, depression and alcohol use.

Preventure Australia is the only team in Australia that carries out accredited training for school staff and health practitioners to implement  the Preventure program in their organization.

Partial funding by NSW Health - The Health Administration Corporation

For more information contact Lucinda Grummitt at lucinda.grummitt@sydney.edu.au.

Targeting personality risk factors to prevent adolescent mental illness: Preventing adolescent mental illness and substance use through teacher-delivered interventions targeting personality risk factors.

This trial will test the effectiveness of the Preventure program among young Australians by targeting shared risk factors. It will be the first in Australia to test the effectiveness of the program when delivered by teachers (rather than psychologists), supporting its implementation, enabling broader reach and reducing intervention cost, thereby ensuring a scalable model with the potential to be delivered nation-wide in all Australian high-schools.

Funded by Australian Rotary Health.

For more information please contact Dr Erin Kelly at erin.k@sydney.edu.au.

Identifying early warning signals on the pathways to alcohol use disorder

The RADAR projects is conducting a world-first, intensive, longitudinal study of the developmental course of alcohol use disorder (AUD) across adolescence and young adulthood. The specific objectives are to 1) prospectively measure the presence, age at onset and temporal unfolding of AUD symptoms and 2) determine the individual, peer, family and environmental factors that, in the presence of early symptoms, predict transition to AUD.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Associate Professor Tim Slade at tim.slade@sydney.edu.au.

A cluster randomised controlled trial of a computerised school-based alcohol and drug prevention program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Strong & Deadly Futures is a culturally-appropriate drug prevention and wellbeing curriculum-aligned program based on the Climate Schools storyboard format. The program was developed in collaboration and consultation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and their teachers.

Strong & Deadly Futures is currently being trialled in schools.

Funded by NHMRC and the Australian Government Department of Health.

For more information please contact Dr Lexine Stapinski.

strongdeadly.org.au

Fellowships

Enhancing comorbidity competency in mental health and substance use treatment services.

Funded by NSW Health.

For more information please contact Dr Emma Barrett at emma.barrett@sydney.edu.au.

Mind your mate: An online peer intervention to prevent mental health and substance use problems in adolescence

Funded by Australian Rotary Health.

For more information please contact Dr Louise Birrell at louise.birrell@sydney.edu.au.

A multiple health behaviour approach to prevent common and emerging risk factors for chronic disease: development and evaluation of a novel online intervention for Australian adolescents.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Dr Katrina Champion at katrina.champion@sydney.edu.au.

Personalised healthcare for heroin dependence: Optimising the application of evidence into practice through implementation of an online clinical decision-making tool (HART) (Translating Research into Practice: TRIP).

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Dr Christina Marel at christina.marel@sydney.edu.au.

Improving treatment responses for co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Associate Professor Katherine Mills at katherine.mills@sydney.edu.au.

Optimising prevention of substance use and mental health problems (CDF).

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Associate Professor Nicola Newton at nicola.newton@sydney.edu.au.

Preventing the exacerbation of anxiety and alcohol use comorbidity through cognitive re-training.

Funded by Australian Rotary Health.

For more information please contact Dr Katrina Prior at katrina.prior@sydney.edu.au.

Empowering young people to make positive health choices: Translation of evidence-based drug and alcohol prevention to Australian adolescents

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Dr Lexine Stapinski at lexine.stapinski@sydney.edu.au.

Innovative responses to prevention and treatment of mental disorders and substance use.

Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

For more information please contact Professor Maree Teesson at maree.teesson@sydney.edu.au.

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