Dr. Aimee McRae-Clark is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. Her clinical and research expertise is in substance use disorders, pharmacotherapy, and dual diagnoses. Aside from educating students, Dr. McRae-Clark is involved in grant-funded research as well as producing numerous publications. The following interview provides insight into Dr. McRae-Clark's practice, as well as advice on research, to help pharmacists generate ideas on how substance abuse and dependence might be integrated into their practice.

As a Pharm.D. student, I had the opportunity to do a rotation on an inpatient substance use unit. By specializing in substance use disorders, I felt that my pharmacy background would be ideal not only in developing a better understanding of the effects of illicit drugs, but also for developing potential treatments in this area.

I received my BS in pharmacy from the University of Georgia and completed my post-baccalaureate Pharm.D. at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). I continued at MUSC to complete a residency in psychopharmacy practice and a two-year National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) research fellowship. I was fortunate to then be awarded a K23 Mentored Career Development Award from NIDA, which provided support and resources for five additional years of focused training in drug abuse research.

I spend most of my time overseeing ongoing research projects, writing manuscripts, and developing new grant submissions. I am also actively involved in teaching and mentoring junior faculty.

Pharmacists can play a variety of roles in research. I have served as Prinicipal Investigator (PI) on several NIH-funded grants. I have also participated as a co-investigator on multiple additional projects, providing guidance on medication dosage, drug interactions, and regulatory requirements (such as obtaining INDs from the FDA). I work with a multidisciplinary team with complementary areas of expertise. For example, my co-investigators typically include addiction psychiatrists, a physician assistant, clinical psychologists, and statisticians.

I am currently PI of an R01 from NIDA evaluating the efficacy of buspirone in conjunction with contingency management and motivational enhancement therapy for the treatment of marijuana dependence. I am also co-PI of a component of a large center grant focused on women's health; our component is utilizing a pharmacological stressor to explore gender differences in cocaine craving. I am also involved in a multisite medication treatment trial for cocaine dependence, as well as several other clinical laboratory studies.

My current R01 is by far my favorite project to date. The project includes pharmacogenetic analyses to determine if treatment outcome can be predicted, and also incorporates a novel assay for medication compliance. I feel that my expertise as a clinical pharmacist was instrumental in developing the methodology, and was also a major factor in my receiving the grant.

The NIH website is a great place to start to find funding opportunities. Also, the CPNP research committee is actively working to compile information on research training opportunities to help members interested in getting involved in research.

Good resources include the National Institute on Drug Abuse website (www.nih.nida.gov) for information on new research findings and upcoming conferences, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website (http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/) for statistics, treatment options, and reports.

I find it best to have several manuscripts in different “stages” of development. For example, at the moment, I have a manuscript that is being reviewed by a journal, another that I am completing writing the discussion, and a third for which the analysis is currently in progress. I try to “block” one morning or afternoon a week to devote to writing, although my schedule does not always cooperate.

When I have a new idea for a project, I will often discuss it with my previous collaborators, and ask for advice on other individuals who may have the expertise needed for that particular project. I also find attending annual meetings, and particularly attending poster sessions, are great opportunities to meet and talk with researchers with similar interests and potentially start new collaborations.