Martin Wegman, an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awardee and M.D.-Ph.D. student at the University of Florida, won the College of Medicine’s 2016 Alpha Omega Alpha Prize for his research poster, “Difference in Drug Relapse Rates between Alternative Rehabilitation Programs in Malaysia.” Wegman, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in epidemiology, receives his primary mentorship from Dr. Elizabeth Shenkman, professor and chair of the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine at UF. A committee of 22 judges selected Wegman’s poster for the top prize out of 86 student research presentations during the College of Medicine’s Celebration of Research poster event held February 22 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The award includes a $1,000 cash prize.
Wegman’s research compared the effectiveness of two starkly different governmental programs seeking to tackle the issue of heroin use in Malaysia – compulsory drug detention centers (CDDCs) and voluntary treatment centers providing methadone maintenance therapy. The researchers used urine drug tests to compare relapse rates of some 184 participants throughout the year after their release from the facilities.
“It is very exciting to be recognized for this work, which has dramatic implications,” Wegman said after learning his presentation had won. “It provides some of the first evidence on therapeutic ineffectiveness of CDDCs and directly supports the ongoing efforts to replace this failed policy.”
Compulsory drug detention centers, common in Malaysia and throughout much of Asia, are more like prisons than the rehabilitative programs they are described as in governmental policy, Wegman said. Evidence-based medical therapies for treating substance abuse, such as methadone, generally are not available in these centers. Wegman joined the research team in August 2014 when he traveled to the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a recipient of a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship from Yale University School of Medicine.
Wegman’s analysis determined that people released from CDDCs relapsed much faster than those released from voluntary treatment.
Wegman said the study results clearly demonstrate that CDDCs are an ineffective means of controlling drug abuse in Malaysia. He added that human rights advocates believe the incarceration of persons who use drugs in these centers is inhumane, as well.
“The study results strongly support international calls for all countries in Southeast Asia that support compulsory drug detention centers to cease such human rights violations,” he concluded in his abstract.
During the poster competition at the O’Connell Center, Wegman presented his poster during several rounds of judging. Wegman said this was the first time he had disseminated his findings beyond his research group at the University of Malaya. His co-authors include study PIs, Frederick Altice of Yale University and Adeeba Kamarulzaman of University of Malaya.
Wegman, who recently began submitting the study results for publication, attended a reception for the winners and their research mentors at the College of Medicine in April. He also will receive recognition at UF’s 2016 Honors Convocation in the fall. Read more about Wegman’s work in Malaysia in this POST article: http://post.health.ufl.edu/2014/09/19/24859-82-miles/