The Lerner Center’s research and our affiliates’ research projects are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary and involve quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches to examine and explain social, spatial, structural, and policy determinants of population health, community health, and health disparities. Lerner Center affiliates have particular expertise in health and wellbeing trends among certain sub-populations (e.g., veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals who use drugs, racial/ethnic minorities, rural areas) and on life course, contextual, and policy drivers of health and mortality. Our current and recent projects are described below.

Understanding the Impacts of COVID-19 on Drug Use and Overdose in Upstate New York

Drug overdoses have been on the rise in much of the country, including many areas of New York state since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020. The Lerner Center is conducting surveys and interviews to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug use and wellbeing among persons who use drugs in Upstate New York. Read more about this study.

New York Opioid Court Treatment Enhancement Project

With funding from the National Institute of Justice, the Lerner Center is evaluating substance use treatment and recovery support service systems treating individuals with opioid use disorders (OUDs) who are participating in a sample of Opioid Courts in New York State. This project includes partnerships with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (OASAS), New York State Unified Court System (UCS), the Center for Court Innovation, and the Maxwell X Lab. For more information and resources about the Opioid Court Systems, visit NYS OASASNYS Unified Court Systems, and The Center for Court Innovation.

National Well-being Survey

The Lerner Center conducted a nationally-representative survey of U.S. working-age (18-64) adults in February and March of 2021 to examine demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic differences in physical, mental, psychological, and social health and wellbeing. Data analyses are ongoing.

Several Lerner Center affiliates conduct research on U.S. mortality trends and the causes of those trends. Research in this area examines how and why overall and cause-specific mortality rates vary across demographic and social groups and geographic areas (e.g., U.S. states, counties, rural-urban continuum). We are particularly interested in the policy and contextual (place-level) drivers of these trends. Key questions include: Why are drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates higher in some places and population subgroups than others? Why has education become an increasingly important determinant of premature mortality? Which state policies explain diverging mortality trends in the U.S.? Representative briefs summarizing research by some of our affiliates in this area are:

Lerner Center Director, Shannon Monnat, was part of a National Academy of Sciences Consensus Committee that released a report in March 2021 on key drivers of rising midlife mortality rates and associated widening differentials. Access the report here.

Mental and Behavioral Health

Lerner Center staff, graduate students, and several of our affiliates have substantial expertise in mental and behavioral health outcomes and their causes and consequences. These studies focus on social, structural, and policy determinants of opioid, other drug, and alcohol use and the experiences of people who use substances. Representative briefs summarizing research by some of our affiliates in this area are:

Child and Family Health

Several Lerner Center affiliates conduct research on the health and economic well-being of children and families, with a particular emphasis on the policies and contextual conditions that drive disparities in poor health outcomes among children and the causes and consequences of material hardship throughout the life course. Representative briefs summarizing research by some of our affiliates in this area are:

Demographic and Geographic Variation in COVID-19 Impacts

Since March of 2020, Lerner Center affiliates have been engaged in research to document and understand COVID-19 infection and mortality trends, the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing, and how these trends vary across different demographic and social groups and geographic areas. A selection of research topics and briefs are provided below. View more on our COVID-19 page.

Impacts on rural areas


Older adults

Mental health and substance use impacts

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