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Friday December 2nd

UNC professor studies race, drug abuse

1-8 Trennette Clark - Dr. Trenette Clark, a researcher with the UNC School of Social Work, is conducting a study on substance abuse in bi-racial adolescents and young adults.
Buy Photos 1-8 Trennette Clark - Dr. Trenette Clark, a researcher with the UNC School of Social Work, is conducting a study on substance abuse in bi-racial adolescents and young adults.

Growing up in rural North Carolina, Trenette Clark watched as some loved ones went to jail at young ages and others lost their children to the Child Welfare System.

She came to wonder why some drug users’ behavior spirals into a vortex of addiction and why those exposed to the same drug can have very different experiences from one another. She also wondered why so much research was restricted to one race.

After receiving a $829,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Clark, a UNC professor of social work, hopes to answer these questions and many more, specifically questions surrounding the practically untouched topic of biracial adolescents.

“I think we’ve kind of been masking differences within groups by saying all these people are black or all these people are white,” Clark said.

Clark said substance abuse among biracial adolescents could have a trend resembling a combination of trends among races.

“My research suggests that a child who identifies as being both black and white, their substance use prevalence rate might fall in between the child who identifies as only black and the child who identifies as only white,” she said.

“So there seems to be a kind of blending effect between the two races.”

By identifying these trends, Clark and her research assistant Monique Smith, a first-year master’s student in social work, hope to target the most effective methods in adolescent drug abuse prevention.

One of Smith’s primary jobs as a research assistant is coordinating prevention events at local middle and high schools.

“(At our events) we have a lot of drugs facts and statistics available for them just to make substance abuse more real to people instead of just an idea,” she said.

“With the increased knowledge base, we’ll know how to better serve and better reach those adolescents who fall in the biracial category.”

For Clark, this award means that she can buy out 75 percent of her teaching for five years. Therefore, during these five years, Clark will be able to focus heavily on her research and become an expert in her field.

In order to complete the necessary preparation for her proposal, Clark went through multiple drafts with her grant mentor Matthew Howard. Together they coordinated with the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute and others at UNC to receive external reviews, as well as expert statistical consultation.

“(Winning this award) was unique in that the funding has gotten so tight at the National Institute of Health that to be able to pull it off at this time was really a great achievement,” Howard said.

“Trenette was really a strong applicant, and she has really become a leader in the whole area of African American studies.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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