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Women Leading Prevention Science Podcast: Inspiring Future Women Substance Use Prevention Researchers

Opioid overdose deaths are a serious public health issue in the United States. Nearly 108,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2023, including 81,000 deaths involving opioids. During that same year, 20% of adolescents in grades 8, 10, and 12 used an illicit drug, while 12% used an illicit drug in the past 30 days. This highlights the critical need for public health professionals engaged in substance use prevention research. 

Launching the Women Leading Prevention Science Podcast

To inspire and inform women researchers, early-career investigators, and students about career opportunities in substance use prevention, the HEAL Prevention Cooperative (HPC) launched a 13-episode podcast series Women Leading Prevention Science (WLPS), hosted by RTI. The HPC consists of 10 research projects, with RTI serving as the coordinating center, and is funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL Initiative). 

WLPS Podcast Goals and the Impact of the NIH HEAL Initiative

The NIH HEAL Initiative aims to improve prevention, treatment, and pain management strategies for harmful opioid use and addiction. In support of this goal, the WLPS podcast features HPC women researchers at the forefront of youth substance use prevention and provides a platform for them to tell stories, share perspectives, uplift one another in professional and personal pursuits, and give advice to young women interested in prevention science.

“I remember stumbling into the substance use prevention research field 25 years ago as an early career scientist and data analyst with few resources on how to navigate the field, what to expect, or even what this relatively new field at the time was,” said Elvira Elek, Ph.D., Senior Research Public Health Analyst at RTI and one of the female prevention scientists interviewed for the podcast. “I hope this podcast series gives current early career folks an idea of the different paths they can take to do the important work that prevention science contributes to in addressing the opioid crisis and the serious impacts of the use of other substances on health and society.”

Diverse Backgrounds and Topics Featured in the WLPS Podcast

The HPC researchers featured in the podcast come from a variety of backgrounds and work with diverse populations. Conversational topics include journeys through graduate school, mentoring relationships, challenges breaking into the field, adapting to opportunities, allowing your passions to drive your research goals, work-life balance, and much more. Each researcher shared her advice for young women interested in pursuing a career in prevention science. 

WLPS Podcast Episodes

  • Episode 1: Mentoring Our Future Bosses: Elizabeth D’Amico, Ph.D., RAND Corporation; and Maureen Walton, MPH, Ph.D., University of Michigan
  • Episode 2: Choosing Your Path: Jessica Cance, Ph.D., MPH, RTI International; and Amy Yule, M.D., Boston Medical Center
  • Episode 3: Pursuing Your Passions: Tyra Pendergrass Boomer, M.E.M., Yale University; and Elvira Elek, Ph.D., RTI International
  • Episode 4: Forging Strong Relationships: Beth Stormshak, Ph.D., University of Oregon; and Leslie Leve, Ph.D., University of Oregon
  • Episode 5: The Balancing Act: Danica Knight, Ph.D., Texas Christian University; and Margaret Kuklinski, Ph.D., Washington State University 
  • Episode 6: Next Gen Prevention Science: Meet the Hosts of WLPS: hosts Sara Hairgrove, B.A., RTI International; and Jasmine Ramirez, B.S., University of Oregon
  • Episode 7: Building Partnerships in School Settings: Lynn Fiellin, M.D., Yale University; and Lily Hoerner, B.A., Yale University
  • Episode 8: Engaging Youth Experiencing Homelessness: Natasha Slesnick, Ph.D., The Ohio State University; and Jodi Ford, Ph.D., R.N., The Ohio State University 
  • Episode 9: Using Innovative Research to Support Youth in Contact With the Legal SystemYang Yang, Ph.D., Texas Christian University; and Marina Tolou-Shames, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
  • Episode 10: Recognizing the Unique Needs and Strengths of Immigrant YouthLissette Saavedra, Ph.D., RTI International; and Claudia-Santi F. Fernandes, Ed.D., L.P.C., Yale University
  • Episode 11: Championing Prevention Science at the Federal Level: Sarah Steverman, Ph.D., M.S.W., National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Episode 12: Intersecting Identities: First Gen Women Scientists featuring Erin E. Bonar, Ph.D., University of Michigan, and Alina Palimaru, Ph.D., RAND Corporation
  • Episode 13: Including Indigenous Voices in Prevention Research: Hannah LaBounty, L.M.S.W., C.C.S.W., Cherokee Nation, and Bethany Jolly Livingston, B.S., Emory University

Listen to the WLPS podcast on YouTube

Learn more about the NIH HEAL Initiative


The WLPS podcast was produced and distributed by the HEAL Prevention Coordinating Center, which is part of the HPC and based at RTI International under the leadership of Phillip Graham, Dr.P.H., and Ty Ridenour, Ph.D. The views expressed in the WLPS podcast are those of the participants and not the official views of NIH, the NIH HEAL Initiative, NIDA, or the participating institutions and organizations.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by BeLinda Weimer (Research Public Health Analyst), Elvira Elek (Senior Research Public Health Analyst & Program Manager for Substance Use Prevention, Evaluation, and Research ), Elizabeth Troutman Adams (Research Public Health Analyst), Jessica Cance (Senior Research Public Health Analyst), and Lissette M. Saavedra (Senior Research Psychologist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.