Core Faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University

The International Program in Addiction Studies is made up of members from the Virginia Commonwealth University as well as King's College London and Adelaide University, Australia.

Mary Loos, VCU Program Director

Dr. Loos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the Virginia Commonwealth University and has served as the VCU Program Director for the International Programme in Addiction Studies (IPAS), an innovative Master of Science in Addiction Studies Program offered collaboratively with King’s College London and the University of Adelaide in Australia via distance learning technologies, since 2006. Trained as a clinical/community psychologist with research interests in developmental psychopathology, her primary focus for the past several years has been international and distance learning program development and undergraduate teaching. Dr. Loos also has an extensive background in mental health and substance abuse program evaluation, having worked in the Research and Evaluation Offices of the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services from 1999 to 2002, and as an evaluation consultant to the Virginia Olmstead Task Force in 2002 and 2003. Dr. Loos received her B.A. in political science, cum laude, from Barnard College of Columbia University in 1985 and her PhD in Clinical/Community Psychology in 1998 from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Bob Balster, VCU Program Co-Director

Dr. Balster is the  Luther A. Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Virginia campus in Richmond. He is the Coordinator for VCU site for the Humphrey Fellowship Program in Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Policy.  Dr. Balster is a Fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), and the American Psychological Association. Dr. Balster is a founder and past Director of VCU's Institute for Drug and Alcohol studies, a recent Past‑President of the CPDD and a former member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Drug Dependence (Dependence Liability Evaluation). Previous appointments also include Chair of the Drug Abuse Clinical and Behavior Study Section at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Chair of the FDA Drug Abuse Advisory Committee, and Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association. From 1998-2010 he was Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence and currently serves on the editorial boards of five journals.

In 2000, Dr. Balster received the first annual Mentorship Award of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence for his lifetime achievements in training and nurturing young drug abuse scientists in his laboratories. Other awards include the VCU School of Medicine Faculty Teaching Excellence Award (2003), the Excellence in Mentorship Award from the NIDA International Program (2006), the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science (2006), the Brady-Schuster Award from the Division of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse of the American Psychological Association (2007) and the CPDD Nathan B. Eddy Award (2009).

The principal areas of Dr. Balster's research program are neurobehavioral pharmacology and substance abuse. His primary interests are in phencyclidine, ketamine and inhalant abuse. He has also worked in the areas of marijuana, opiate, tobacco and alcohol research. He also has extensive experience in drug abuse potential evaluation and in the drug approval process for psychiatric, neurologic and addiction treatment products. He has also worked in neurobehavioral toxicology. Dr. Balster’s research program has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1976 and he has been the recipient of a NIDA MERIT Award. Dr. Balster has published over 260 papers in scientific journals, edited two books and authored over 35 book chapters. He also has experience in the area of drug abuse policy and has testified before Congress and the Virginia General Assembly. He served as the Public Policy Officer for the College on Problems of Drug Dependence and on the Steering Committee for a CPDD-sponsored Fall 2002 meeting on regulatory aspects of drug abuse potential assessment which involved US regulatory agencies and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. He recently Co-Chaired the Planning Committee for a 2008 national meeting on the use of risk management and post-marketing surveillance in limiting prescription drug abuse.


Elizabeth Eustis-Turf, VCU Course Coordinator

As an epidemiologist, I collaborate with other researchers to design and implement human research studies. For the last ten years I have worked in such areas as youth tobacco use, evaluation for mental health and substance abuse services and review of the use of television for health education.

I worked with a group of VCU faculty to bring the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship Program to VCU and served as the education coordinator for the Fellows for four years. I have also been very involved in the design, development and conduct of the International Program in Addiction Studies, a tri-partite graduate program leading to a Master of Science in Addiction Studies. This program is a true collaboration in which VCU works with King’s College London and the University of Adelaide to offer a completely online program to disseminate the latest information regarding addiction treatment, prevention and policy worldwide. There are currently over 30 students enrolled in the program and they represent many different countries, both developed and developing.

My current research involves prevention of consequences associated with substance misuse in Virginia. I am the lead epidemiologist on a five-year SAMHSA (Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration) collaborative project entitled "Applying a Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) to develop state-level infrastructure target parallel development in selected high-need communities". Review of statewide data indicated that Virginia has a higher than expected level of binge drinking and motor vehicle crashes with alcohol-impaired drivers 15 to 24 so we are now planning for distribution of funds to communities with high evidence of need. This is funded through a sub-grant from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Charles O'Keeffe, Founder and Course Coordinator

Charles O´Keeffe is currently a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), as well as the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies at VCU.  Previously, he served as the president and CEO of Reckett Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc, as well as the  president of Washington Reference Laboratories, which was the largest clinical toxicology laboratory in the nation, providing urine toxicology services to the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War.  He has also served in the White House under three presidents; as Advisor, Special Assistant for International Health, and as Deputy Director of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy, he was responsible for encouraging the U.S. Senate to ratify the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Mr. O´Keeffe has served on U.S. delegations to the World Health Assembly and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. He has served as expert advisor to the WHO, UNFDAC, UNSDRI, and other UN agencies. Mr. O´Keeffe was also instrumental in assisting the Congress to reach consensus on the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000, and he also developed the first child-resistant, abuse-resistant vehicle for dispensing methadone as president of Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Services.  Mr. O'Keeffe did his undergraduate work in pharmacy and chemistry at the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy and Temple University and earned his MBA at Loyola.

Lauretta Cathers, VCU Course Coordinator

Dr. Lauretta (Laurie) Cathers is a faculty member in the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, School of Allied Health. She has been at Virginia Commonwealth University for 15 years and has focused mostly on community based research in HIV and Addiction. She received her PhD in Health Related Sciences, concentration in Rehabilitation Counseling Leadership from VCU in 2013. She engages in a variety of research, teaching and service projects. Currently, she is the coordinator and co-instructor for the Behavioral Science Curriculum; an interdisciplinary collaboration between Rehabilitation Counseling and VCU School of Dentistry faculty. In addition, she instructs in the International Programme in Addiction Studies (Addiction Policy). Dr. Cathers’ current research includes topics such as: social gaming and gambling among college students, community coalitions, and well-being among rehabilitation counselors.  Her research methodology experience ranges from randomized clinical trials to qualitative inquiry. For the past three years, she has worked with VCU Humphrey Fellows program as an advisor and this past year, as a guest speaker (qualitative methods). She resides in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Kevin, and two dogs.