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PSU student researching opioid crisis awarded dissertation fellowship
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Posted: April 19, 2018

A Portland State University doctoral student has been awarded $10,000 to help her finish her dissertation about access to opioid treatments.

Alexandra Nielsen, who is enrolled in the Systems Science program in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is one of 10 recipients of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi's Dissertation Fellowships. The yearlong fellowship supports students in the dissertation writing stage of their doctoral study.

"I've had a long and bumpy road toward earning my Ph.D., and often I have had to prioritize making money and taking care of my young family over dissertation work," Nielsen said. "Getting the fellowship has allowed me to readjust the delicate balance between research, work and child care to prioritize research for one last big push to get my dissertation done, once and for all."

Her research uses agent-based simulation – a way to explore how patterns in society arise from simple day-to-day decisions of people as they act and interact – to compare the effects of two recent federal policies that have expanded access to the anti-addiction medication buprenorphine: one in July 2016 that raised the regulatory limit on the number of patients a provider can treat, and another in February 2017 that extended prescribing privileges to nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Her work on the topic began in 2011 when her advisor had a grant to study the root causes of the opioid crisis and invited her to be a research assistant.

"As I worked on simulation for policy analysis, I met people from all sectors of our society tirelessly working to help people reclaim their lives," Nielsen said. "I am honored to play some tiny part in that work. On a personal note, I struggle with addiction myself. The people I model aren't so different from myself, from any of us."