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5 Questions with Faculty: Tomoko Udo

Tomoko Udo wears a shout-out to her geologist husband while hiking in Virginia in the summer. “I like to wear that shirt when I go hiking with him because he does like to talk about rocks wherever we go,” she said.

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 15, 2017) — Tomoko Udo, an assistant professor of Health Policy, Management and Behavior, came to UAlbany’s School of Public Health two years ago after completing a Yale Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health program. The program is a three-year junior faculty training program in the Department of Psychiatry Yale’s School of Medicine.

She also had a practical reason to come to UAlbany: “My husband and I were both able to find awesome academic jobs in the same area,” she said – her geologist husband teaches at RPI. “Bonus reasons are because it is close to family and we love the Northeast.”

What are you working on now?

Overall, I study a wide range of addictive behaviors, from alcohol/drug use to binge eating. Two particular studies aim to tackle the current opioid epidemic through possibly changing health care delivery to opioid users and law enforcement practices.

One study, which is funded by the University, aims to evaluate an opioid overdose prevention training delivered at hospital emergency departments. This is part of an effort to understand how we can best utilize emergency department to reduce opioid abuse and risky health behaviors associated with opioid use.

In another project, I evaluate the effectiveness of a police-led treatment referral program in Chatham Police Department (“Chatham Cares 4 U”), an alternative-to-arrest diversion program, on improving access to treatment, as well as life trajectories of the program participants.

I am excited about these studies because they have opened doors for me to directly work with individuals and organizations in our community that truly care about those who suffered from addiction and their family. I believe that these studies have implications for long-term changes in how addiction should be treated in the US but also globally.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

“Drugs and Behavior” was one of the very first undergraduate classes that I took when I transferred to Boston University from a University in Japan. I became fascinated by how powerful influence addictive drugs can have on human behaviors through changing the brain.

Initially, I was interested in understanding why people develop addiction, so I focused on animal models and human behavioral models to study mechanisms of addiction. Gradually, I became more interested in identifying ways to improve interventions targeting health and quality of life in individuals with addiction. My collaborative work with community partners really fits nicely here.

What’s your favorite class to teach?

I love teaching “Addiction in Public Health” because I get to discuss important key issues with the future public health workforce. Addiction being possibly a controversial topic, I love hearing various views and opinions by students during class.

Dinner tonight with anyone, living or not: Who, and why?

My friends from high school — I have really good memories from high school and it would be nice to sit down and catch up with them after not being able to go home for five years.

What was your first job?

Sorting mails for post office when I was 16 — In Japan, it’s a tradition to send New Year greeting cards to your friends, family, and colleagues, and they hire temporary part-times to handle thousands of the greeting cards. It sounds boring and it was, but that was one of the only jobs my parents allowed me to get.

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