Public Health Student Honored for Research on LGBT Youth Prescription Drug Abuse

Aleksandar Kecojevic, a second-year doctoral student at Drexel University’s School of Public Health, has been named the 2011 recipient of the Walter J. Lear Outstanding Student Research Award for his study of non-medical use of prescription drugs among high-risk LGBT youth. The LGBT Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA) awards this national recognition each year to the student who submits the most promising research abstract as judged for its innovation, academic soundness, and relevance to LGBT health.

Kecojevic was honored during the annual APHA meeting in Washington, D.C. at the LGBT Caucus Dinner on Tuesday, November 1, 2011. Kecojevic is the first student at Drexel University to receive the award.

“The Drexel Program for LGBT Health extends our most enthusiastic congratulations to Alex on this outstanding achievement,” said Ted Faigle, the Program Manager for the LGBT Health Program at Drexel’s School of Public Health.  “This gives national recognition to Alex for his work toward his dissertation.”

Kecojevic’s research examined non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) in high-risk LGBT youth, ages 18-25, in the larger context of the growing public health concern of NMUPD in the United States over the last decade.

Data for the study included surveys from 560 high-risk youth, polydrug users, homeless youth, and injection drug users, both heterosexual and LGBT in Los Angeles and New York City from 2008 – 2010.  Assessment included history and current patterns of NMUPD and illicit drug use, and rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Kecojevic found there was a significant difference between LGBT and heterosexual NMUPD. LGBT high risk youth started using prescription drugs earlier, were prescribed medications more often, had used more recently, were more likely to have injected prescription drugs, and were more likely to report having a family member with a history of using prescription drugs. LGBT youth were also more likely to be diagnosed with certain STIs.

Kecojevic’s findings suggest that NMUPD among high-risk LGBT youth may be an underreported feature of the larger prescription drug epidemic in the U.S., and these findings should be considered when developing or implementing prevention interventions. In addition, LGBT-youth perspectives may be missing from the larger discussion of prescription drug abuse in the United States.  For this reason he states further research is needed.

Kecojevic’s mentor during his research was Dr. Stephen Lankenau, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health. Lankenau’s research focus is on HIV/AIDS, adolescent health, drug addiction and abuse and qualitative research.

Walter J. Lear was one of the founders and a longtime chair of The LGBT Caucus. He founded the caucus in 1975 and worked with APHA to inform them of health issues and the need for research on LGBT communities.  The LGBT Caucus established the Walter J. Lear Outstanding Student Research Award to recognize exceptional work by students on LGBT-related issues. The award consists of a stipend and free caucus membership.

Drexel University’s School of Public Health takes an interdisciplinary approach to public health that blends rigorous science and meaningful practice. Drexel SPH is one of the fastest growing schools of public health in the country. The School is a fully accredited School of Public Health and full member of the Association of Schools of Public Health.