When Adam Viera finished his BA from Yale College in the early aughts, he was offered a job in an AIDS service center in New York City where he could earn some money while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life. It turns out that this was the perfect job to fall into, as Adam discovered public health. After a few years, he earned his Master of Public Health degree and specialized in substance use and harm reduction, first as a trainer and later as a consultant providing technical assistance to various non-profit organizations and as an adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Social Work. However, after 15 years of practice in public health, Adam decided that to continue to grow, he needed to get his PhD.
“Research is so separate from work in the field, and I struggled to bridge that gap,” said Adam. Now a doctoral candidate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and fellow in the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, Adam continues to study substance use and harm reduction. His goal is to frame his own research so that it will be easily interpreted and implemented by people in the field.
70,000 people per year are dying of drug overdose in the U.S, mostly due to opioids, he says, and overdoses from crystal meth are also on the rise. “Those numbers are just those who died; the scope of the problem is far greater when you add in those who survived overdoses and struggle with addiction.” As HIV prevention sees success with the MSM community and uptake of PrEP, a prophylactic drug to prevent HIV infection, those at highest risk for HIV in the U.S. are using illicit substances.
Adam envisions a mix of upstream and downstream interventions to address this. In other words, it is important to respond to immediate and quickly shifting needs, but if you don’t address the social determinants driving health overall in a community such as jobs and education, you’ll end up playing whack-a-mole instead of developing long-term solutions.
As a trainer in the field of harm reduction, Adam long ago discovered that he loves teaching, so it was no surprise to some when he was selected teaching fellow of the year by the Yale School of Public Health class of 2019. As a fellow for the Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, he shares this passion with graduate students and post docs through classroom coaching and consultation. “Teaching helps me become clearer on the concepts more than anything else,” says Adam.