OHSU researcher recognized for consequential impact on addiction science and policy

Dennis McCarty, Ph.D., participates in a panel discussion on opioids

Dennis McCarty, Ph.D., was inducted Sept. 30, 2022, into the  Hall of Fame at the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences, his alma mater.

McCarty has been able to work with people struggling with alcohol problems and it is the fatalities that he remembers. The death of a research assistant, who drifted in and out of recovery, taught McCarty an important lesson: His colleague didn’t need to die from an overdose because there are treatments that could have helped him survive and have a better quality of life.

Video of McCarty discussing his work in UK Hall of Fame video (link)
McCarty talks about his research and career in this UK Hall of Fame induction video

McCarty, an emeritus professor in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and in the School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry, has studied the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders throughout his career as he blended research with policy development and implementation. Because of his work at the intersection of policy, practice and research, he was inducted Sept. 30 into the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences.

McCarty, who continues to serve as an adjunct professor of medicine in the Division of General and Internal Medicine, Addiction Medicine Program, was born in Chicago and is the eldest of six children. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Kentucky in 1971 and continued to complete master’s (1976) and doctoral degrees (1978) in social psychology there.

“We were not trained in addiction treatment and research. In the 1970s in graduate school, I served as a research assistant. The field was inventing its research methods. That graduate student position became the stepping stone for my career,” said McCarty.

Postdoctoral training in alcohol studies at the University of North Carolina Medical School was his next step. McCarty learned to manage large-scale data collection and analysis. He applied social psychology to better understand prevention and treatment interventions and became more confident in my research judgment and methods.

He headed north, working for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health building a patient information system that was used to distribute state and federal funding for alcohol and drug treatment more equitably and as a platform for research on the effectiveness and quality of care.

As the director of substance abuse services for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (1989-1995), he collaborated with Massachusetts Medicaid to expand access to outpatient and detoxification services. Dr. McCarty is nationally recognized for his work at the nexus of policy, practice and research on the organization, financing, and quality of services for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest in 2000, McCarty led the Western States Node of the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network and served as the national evaluator for the Network for the Improvement of Addiction Treatment. He also served as a member of the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission.

“Dr. McCarty is one of the most influential and consequential practitioner-scholars in the history of the addiction treatment field,” said Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Stanford University, a frequent collaborator with Dr. McCarty.

He was the academic director for the University of Amsterdam’s Summer Institute on Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction, which put on a two-week course that examined Dutch policy perspectives on drug use disorders. His honors include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Section of the American Public Health Association (2012) and Fellow status in the College of Problems on Drug Dependence (2019) and the American Psychological Association (2007). In his spare time, he and his wife enjoy birding and wildlife watching.

“Among the highest achievement that any of us in academic medicine can hope for is to have a positive impact on human health. Dennis McCarty has had that level of impact,” said David Jacoby, M.D., interim dean, OHSU School of Medicine.

“His research has set policy direction, improved treatment and, perhaps most importantly, substantially chipped away at the stigma associated with substance use disorders that are as debilitating as the health impacts themselves,” Dr. Jacoby said. “I want to express my gratitude to the University of Kentucky for recognizing our OHSU colleague, a key collaborator with the School of Medicine, and their distinguished alum.”

Dr. McCarty was the principal investigator on 31 research awards from federal agencies, states, foundations, and industries and as a co-investigator on 31 more research awards. He had three decades of continuous support from externally funded research awards with nearly $50 million in total research support (as a PI). Scopus lists 210 authored or co-authored research papers with more than 5,000 citations and an h-index of 38. He has co-edited six books including two reports for the Institute of Medicine and he has contributed more than 25 chapters in textbooks.

“Dennis has contributed immeasurably to the field of addiction science and policy,” said Todd Korthuis, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and professor of public health, OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

“His policy-pertinent research, teaching, and mentoring have directly improved access to evidence-based treatments for people who use alcohol and drugs in the U.S. and internationally,” he said. “His generosity as a mentor and collaborator have inspired generations of addiction scientists and clinicians. On a personal level, I’m so grateful for Dennis’s friendship and guidance. He sets the highest standard of availability, attention, and excellence in research and teaching that I aspire to pass on to those I mentor.”