Caitlyn Leonardson-Placek, MA, PhD

leonardson-headshotGHES US Fellow 2016-2017

E-mail: caitlyn.placek@gmail.com
Fellowship Site: Public Health Research Institute, India
U.S. Institution: Florida International University

Project Title: Exploring Onset, Predictors, and Health Outcomes of Substance Use and Risky Sexual Behaviors Among Adolescents and Adults in Mysore, India

The period of adolescence is commonly associated with an onset of substance use, risky sexual behavior, and heightened impulsivity. As adolescents make the transition into adulthood, adoption of cultural norms often lead to shifts in patterns of use and risky sexual behaviors among men and women.

In application to public health, substance abuse in conjunction with risky sexual behaviors is a well-established risk factor for increased susceptibility of becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Risky substance use and risk sexual behavior are themselves linked to a number of environmental, psychological, and biological factors, such as food insecurity, poverty, heightened impulsivity, iron deficiency anemia, and STDs such as HIV and herpes simplex virus type 2. These factors are particularly noteworthy to explore in India, where substance use is on the rise, and where nearly half of those in Asia who are infected with HIV are located. Furthermore, Indian scholars have stressed the need for more research and interventions for youth that focus on reproductive health and substance use.

This study will investigate substance use and sexual knowledge and/or behavior among adolescents and adults in Mysore district. Specifically, this study will 1) evaluate the change in knowledge using a public health intervention that targets substance use, sexual health (including HIV), and nutrition among adolescents ages 15-17 from tribal and peri-urban populations; 2) investigate environmental, psychological, cultural, and biological factors associated with substance use and risky sexual behavior among young adults ages 18-25 in tribal and peri-urban populations.

Findings from this research will provide rich bio cultural data regarding local perceptions of substance abuse and risky sexual behavior, and have the potential to illuminate gender-specific linkages between drug use, risky sexual behavior, and risk of contracting HIV.

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