Study of "club" drugs draws researcher back to home country

As the United States struggles with the opioid epidemic, the people of China are confronting a similar problem — the soaring use of synthetic “club” drugs.


As the U.S. struggles with the opioid epidemic, China is confronting similar problems with synthetic “club” drugs. Though the cultures and countries are very different, there are opportunities for the nations to collaborate in addressing these public health challenges.

Even though the two countries and their cultures are a world apart, Tracy Fu, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, sees opportunities for collaboration in addressing these and other public health challenges.

Dr. Fu is no casual observer. With a doctorate in public health, the China native has a decade of experience in research and the development of interventions for HIV prevention, migrant health, sexual/reproductive health, behavioral intervention in illicit drug use and harm reduction.

Currently, Dr. Fu and Iiushi Yang, PhD, of Old Dominion University are co-investigators on a federally-funded study in China. Their study is designed to better understand the causes and consequences behind a recent surge in the use of psychoactive drugs, such as methamphetamine, ketamine and ecstasy. The study is being conducted, coincidentally, in Dr. Fu’s home province of Yunnan, the epicenter of HIV and drug abuse in southwest China.

“We want to tackle why some people chose to use drugs and some chose not to, even when they have grown up in similar environments,” Dr. Fu says of the five-year study that concludes next year. “Then, we hope the funding will support the next step of the project, a multicomponent intervention, which will help to tackle not just drug abuse but also sexually transmitted infections.”

Dr. Fu trained in the U.S. and has returned to China several times over her career for research and health projects. Her experiences tell her that health problems often transcend political boundaries.

“In the U.S., we have seen all kinds of health problems happening more in low-income communities,” she says, noting that researchers are seeing a similar pattern in China.

“I perceive myself as a cross-culture ambassador for global health.”

– Tracy Fu, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics

“My past training in the U.S. and my international public-health work,” she says, “have really helped me see more of what’s going on globally and how people and countries should work together to address health issues because diseases have no border. It takes collaboration and concerted efforts to change the disease pattern in populations and to address disparities caused by various health problems worldwide.”

Dr. Fu lost a cousin to the drug epidemic in China, an event that helped galvanize her choice of a career in public health.

“I perceive myself as a cross-culture ambassador for global health,” she says. “Eventually I hope to create opportunities for people in China, the U.S. and elsewhere to work together and to learn from each other.”