Research Grants

The Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) invites Ohio State faculty and graduate students to submit proposals for funded research. DEPC grant program focuses on supporting academic research on issues related to the reform of criminal and civil laws prohibiting or regulating the use and distribution of traditionally illicit drugs. The center supports scholarship that examines the impact of modern drug laws, policies, and enforcement on personal freedoms and human well-being.

The center aims to support 3-5 research projects each academic year. Standard awards range from $2500 – $10,000. The deadline for the 2019 Call For Research Proposals was on October 14, 2019.



The impact of national drug policies on the acceptability and availability of non-abstinent treatment interventions among clinical social workers in the United States

Alan K. Davis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Yitong Xin, MBA, MSW, Ph.D. candidate, College of Social Work, The Ohio State University

Approximately 21 million people have a substance use disorder (SUD) in the United States (US), but only 11% of these individuals will receive treatment. National drug control policies prohibiting possession of most drugs inhibit the personal freedoms of people who consume illegal substances and create a situation in which most SUD treatment professionals have been unable/unwilling to accommodate SUD clients who want to continue but reduce their use of illegal substances. This lack of support for non-abstinence goals is contrary to scientific evidence showing that when people reduce/moderate use they can achieve improvements in functioning.

Given that social workers comprise a large proportion of providers in the SUD treatment field, they are in prime positions to provide non-abstinence interventions and to advocate for changes in SUD treatment agencies’ practices and national/local drug policies. However, it is unclear to what extent social workers’ training, and their attitudes and beliefs about drug use, have been affected by national drug policies and whether their beliefs have influenced their willingness to provide non-abstinence interventions or advocate for changes to these policies. This project aims to use an internet-based survey to gain a better understanding of the attitudes and beliefs among social workers to help inform educational and training needs in the social work profession and help support short- and long-term changes in treatment settings. Data from this study will be used as pilot data for a larger grant submission that aims to develop a training/education intervention to help social workers understand the influence of national drug policies on clinical practices, and to address this influence in learning the skills needed to use non-abstinence interventions in SUD treatment.

Award amount: $10,000

Causes and Consequences of Illicit Substance Use and Drug Enforcement for LGB Individuals

Laura Frizzell, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to misuse illicit substances, including prescription pain relievers such as opiates. This leads to higher rates of substance use disorders than heterosexual individuals, as well as more severe disorders. In turn, LGB individuals have increased rates of risky sexual practices, exposure to HIV/AIDS, and morbidity and mortality. Further, LGB individuals are incarcerated at more than three times the rate of the general adult U.S. population, with many of these individuals convicted of drug crimes. In addition to the direct health consequences of illicit substance misuse, there is an additional array of negative consequences associated with arrest and incarceration, including housing instability, further negative health outcomes, and family disruption.

Despite the host of negative outcomes, virtually no research has examined the consequences of LGB drug-related incarceration. While researchers have paid more attention to substance misuse among LGB individuals, the majority of this research is focused on individual-level covariates and much of it serves to pathologize LGB drug users. As a response, this project has three primary aims. (1) First, this project will identify structural causes of LGB drug misuse. Specifically, it will examine how the extent of (a) state-level legal protections for and (b) social acceptance of LGB individuals impacts their likelihood to use and sell illicit substances. (2) Second, this project will quantify the extent of disparities in drug-related arrests of LGB individuals. (3) Third, this project will identify the consequences of drug enforcement which are exacerbated or unique to LGB individuals.

Award amount: $9,347

Crime and the opioid epidemic: A mixed-methods examination of changing communities and criminal justice contact

Eric LaPlant, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University

In 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths accounted for over two thirds of all poisonings in the United States, representing the largest share of deaths attributed to the drugs in our country’s history. While the public health impact of the opioid epidemic is well-known, the economic ramifications are also substantial. It has been estimated that the annual value of the lives lost to opioid deaths is $504 billion, representing 2.8 percent of our GDP. Further, the increase in opioid-related policing and incarceration places substantial burden on criminal justice entities that are already under pressure to reduce spending. In response to this far-reaching issue, policymakers have sought to limit illicit opioid use in hopes of reducing the number of opioid overdose deaths. However, research has done little to investigate the underlying factors influencing continual increases in overdose deaths, limiting policymakers’ ability to develop targeted solutions capable of effecting change.

Criminology theory has demonstrated the importance of economic factors, such as employment, inequality, and perceptions of success, as they relate to the likelihood of criminal activity; however, research has yet to utilize these theoretical frameworks to study the opioid epidemic. In this study, I draw on these concepts to formulate hypotheses that examine how changing economic conditions, especially signals of economic decline, have influenced counties’ opioid overdose death rates.

Award amount: $9,000

2018 Awards

Deterrence or indifference?: Opioid users’ perceptions of anti-drug laws

Eric LaPlant, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University

Since 1980, the number of drug poisoning deaths in the United States has increased nearly eight-fold, rising from 6,100 per year to 47,500 in 2014. In response to this ongoing public health crisis, policymakers have sought to limit the supply of illicit opioids by increasing law enforcement focus on the distribution and possession of the drugs while also seeking to reduce prescription opioid misuse by implementing prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).

However, as overdose figures continue to rise, the capacity of each of these strategies to effect meaningful change remains a relative unknown. From a deterrence perspective, law makers might expect that harsher legal consequences and increased drug regulation would dissuade the illicit use of opioids. Alternatively, the increased threat of criminal justice contact or stricter drug regulations may not be effective deterrents of opioid use among addicts, whose chemical dependencies are likely to have compromised their ability to rationally analyze risk versus reward. The project seeks to study how opioid users perceive increased law enforcement efforts and legal changes and what, if any impact, these efforts have on their decision making in respect to drug use.

Award amount: $4520

Moral Panics, Race, and the Criminalization of Marijuana in the Early 20th Century

Michael Vuolo, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University

In this study, we apply a social science lens to the processes that led to the criminalization of marijuana in the early 20th century. Although examined within the historical literature on drugs, systematic empirical and statistical analyses remain underdeveloped. We will establish empirical evidence for the role that both race and perceptions of morality played in these efforts. As we are at a critical juncture in terms of criminal justice reform, our analysis provides context for how we got here, with a degree of scientific rigor that has not been applied previously. Understanding how race and false claims about marijuana’s effects contributed to the substance’s criminalization could inform the current debate regarding legalization. Exposing the roots of criminalization could demonstrate the weak scaffolding on which similar arguments in the modern era sit.

Award amount: $9600