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Current Projects

Disparities in cell phone law effectiveness across population subgroups and geographic regions (Funded by the CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control for 2015-2017)

PI: Motao Zhu, MD, PhD

Cellphone-related distracted driving is a prevalent traffic hazard, 44 states and DC have enacted some type of a cell phone law. It is believed that there are wide disparities in the effectiveness of cell phone laws which vary by age, sex, race, ethnicity, and urban/rural region. This project will determine whether cell phone bans are less effective in reducing calling, texting, and crashing among young drivers relative to adult drivers; identify whether cell phone bans are less effective in reducing calling, texting, and crashing among males relative to females; determine whether cell phone bans are less effective in reducing calling, texting, and crashing in certain racial and ethnic groups; and identify whether cell phone bans are less effective in reducing calling, texting, and crashing in rural regions relative to urban regions. The level of enforcement will be measured by the number of cell-phone-related citations per driver-year. The findings of this study should inform efforts to effectively reduce cell phone use while driving among identified high-risk subgroups through targeted campaigns, and reduce the wide disparities that currently exist in motor vehicle injuries and deaths.


Suicide Undercounting: Poisonings, Coroners, and Evidence from Suicide Notes. (Funded by the CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control for 2014-2016)

PI: Ian R.H. Rockett, PhD, MPH; Co-I: Michael D. Regier, PhD; Consortium PIs: Haomiao Jia, PhD and Nestor D. Kapusta, MD;Project Consultants: James L. Frost, MD and Steven J. Stack, PhD

Preliminary evidence suggests that poisoning suicides are unusually difficult for medicolegal authorities to ascertain. Beyond the impact of variable methods of suicide, differential suicide misclassification may also stem from philosophical, scientific, and resource gaps that separate the two co-existing death investigation systems, coroner and medical examiner. Medicolegal authorities are more likely to undercount poisoning than non-poisoning suicides, and county coroner offices are more likely than county medical examiner offices to undercount suicides irrespective of suicide method.

An observational design is being used to evaluate the central hypothesis that medicolegal authorities are more prone to undercounting poisoning than non-poisoning suicides, and county coroner offices are more prone than county medical examiner offices to undercounting suicides as a whole. Since a forensic record of a suicide note can be pivotal in a suicide case ascertainment, it is the key element in the population-based evaluation. The principal data source is restricted-access individual-level data on known suicides for the most recently available three-year period from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).

This project will determine the relative prominence of the suicide note as corroborative evidence in poisoning versus non-poisoning suicide cases, the relative prominence of the suicide note as corroborative evidence in coroner suicide cases versus medical examiner suicide cases, irrespective of method of suicide, and the causal relationship between category of poisoning and the prominence of the suicide note as corroborative evidence, among all poisoning suicide cases.


Translation of an Evidence-Based Fall-Prevention Program into Rural West Virginia Churches (Funded by the CDC/National Center for Injury Prevention and Control for 2012-2015)

PI: Dina Jones, PT, PhD; Co-PI’s: Corrie Mancinelli, PhD; Matthew J. Gurka, PhD.  Consultants:  Fuzhong Li, PhD; Sara Wilcox, PhD; Carri Casteel, PhD; Reverend Dennis Sparks.
Unintentional falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in adults over age 65 both nationally and in West Virginia.  Rurality, age, physical inactivity, and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, are strong risk factors for falls in this population.  Because regular physical activity can reduce fall rates by 30%, translating evidence-based, fall-prevention exercise programs into practice is a public health priority.  Exercise interventions alone can be five times more effective in reducing falls than multi-factorial programs. The Tai Chi: Moving for Better Balance (MFBB) program is an evidence-based, CDC-approved, fall-prevention exercise intervention for older adults. The program has documented efficacy and effectiveness for preventing falls in older adults with a 55% reduction in recurrent fall risk and fewer fall-related injuries. The program has been adopted by senior centers, hospitals, and assisted living facilities in Oregon. Programs delivered in one setting, however, may not automatically translate to others. Thus, there is a need to further translate MFBB into more diverse community settings, such as faith-based organizations.
Because of the cultural value placed on religion by rural older adults, its positive effect on health outcomes, and the fact that church attendance increases with age, faith-based organizations may be efficient, effective, and low-cost venues to deliver evidence-based fall-prevention programming to rural older adults.  In this study, we will focus on one form of faith-based organization, the religious congregation, which includes churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.  Because churches predominate over other forms of congregations in West Virginia, we will use the term “church” when referring to any type of congregation. Thus, the purpose of this study is to use qualitative and quantitative methods to: 1) implement a 16-week intervention of MFBB, with a 16-week follow-up, in older adults in churches in rural West Virginia; 2) evaluate the translation of MFBB into churches with respect to its Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance; and 3) describe functional and fall/injury outcomes. Ultimately, we will translate an efficacious and effective fall-prevention intervention into a new setting, identify the barriers/facilitators to its successful adoption, and examine fidelity and its effects on health outcomes.

Do Cell Phone Laws Reduce Calling, Texting, and Crashes among Young Drivers? (Funded by the NIH/ Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for 2013-2015)
PI: Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD; Co-I:  Matthew J. Gurka, PhD; Consultant: Gordon Smith, MB, ChB, MPH
An increasing number of states have implemented cell phone laws banning hand-held phone use and texting while driving, but it remains unclear whether these laws either reduce calling and texting while driving, or traffic crashes among young drivers. Cell phone use while driving has been estimated to cause 333,000 crashes each year, resulting in 2,600 deaths and $43 billion in societal costs. The objective of this project is to determine across multiple states the actual impact of cell phone laws and levels of enforcement on calling and texting while driving, and rates of injurious and fatal traffic crashes among drivers under age 25. The specific legislative provisions we will examine to determine impact of hand-held cell phone bans on hand-held cell phone use include: mode of enforcement (primary or secondary), amount of fine (≥ $100 or < $100), and penalty points for license (yes or no). The provisions we will examine to determine impact of texting bans on texting while driving include: mode of enforcement (primary or secondary), all cell phone ban for drivers < 18 (yes or no), texting ban for all ages (yes or no), amount of fine (≥ $100 or < $100), and licensure delay for drivers < 18 (≥ 6 months, < 6 months or no). We will examine both hand-held cell phone bans and texting bans on traffic crash rates. The levels of active enforcement will be measured by the number of citations per driver-year. Using a multi-state approach, we will examine the roadside-observed cell phone use, self-reported texting or emailing while driving, and injurious and fatal crashes. Our central hypothesis is that, the effectiveness of cell phone laws is impacted by certain characteristics of the law, and that most cell phone laws do not have an impact unless they include a high degree of enforcement. The rationale for determining which provisions of cell phone laws and which level of enforcement affect cell phone calling and texting while driving, and traffic crash rates, is that it should be possible to outline an optimal law upon which states can base new, or modifications to existing, cell phone laws; and recommend an effective level of enforcement to maintain the law impact.

Appalachian Training Program in Occupational Health and Safety (Funded by the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for 2010-2015)

PI: Christopher Martin, MD

Appalachia is arguably one of the most underserved regions in the country with an unacceptably high burden of occupational disease and injuries. This training program in occupational health and safety provides support to 1) the Occupational Medicine Residency, 2) the Occupational Safety and Health Engineering, and 3) Industrial Hygiene training programs at WVU.  These training programs produce skilled professionals who understand workplaces, diagnose and treat injured workers, focus upon use of engineering to measure and identify hazards, understand failure modes and effects to engineer out such hazards, and are prepared for, and dedicated to, the public health aspects of mitigation and prevention in the region.  In addition to having the only Occupational Medicine Residency and one of only three Occupational Safety and Industrial Hygiene programs in the entire Appalachian region, the presence of NIOSH’s largest facility in the country on our campus is a unique asset.  NIOSH personnel are actively engaged in the efforts of all three training programs.

Centre for Research Development in Gender, Mental Health and Violence Across the Lifespan (Performed under contract from McMasters University; funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research)

Co-PI: Jeffrey Coben, MD

With funding support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute for Gender and Health as a new Centre for Research Development, the Preventing Violence Across the Lifespan (PreVAiL) Research Network is an international research collaboration of over 50 researchers and partners from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia, Europe and Australia including representatives from the World Health Organization and NCIPC’s Division of Violence Prevention.  The goal of this initiative is to bring together researchers and decision-makers to produce and share knowledge that will help children, women and men exposed to child maltreatment and intimate partner violence (IPV).  The three main objectives of PreVAiL are to: 1) increase knowledge about the links between mental health impairment, gender and exposure to child maltreatment and IPV, both in Canada and internationally; 2) develop interventions to prevent or reduce child maltreatment, IPV and related mental health problems; and 3) develop and use proven methods of knowledge translation and exchange to ensure that our research findings reach those who make decisions in these areas.  PreVAiL has implemented an entire program of research activities, networking, pilot projects, and new investigator mentoring, which are described in greater detail at http://www.prevailresearch.ca.