From Hanoi to Kentucky: PhD and MPH Grad Tracks Opioid Crisis

January 07, 2019


huong-luu.pngDr. Huong Luu came to the University of Kentucky from her home city of Hanoi, Vietnam, where she earned a medical degree at Hanoi Medical University. In December 2018 she graduated from the UK College of Public Health with a PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She previously received her Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from CPH.


Luu’s research focus is on the use of prescription drug monitoring program data to inform understanding of opioid use. With her faculty mentor Dr. Svetla Slavova, Department of Biostatistics,  Luu developed computational tools for PDMP-based measures of opioid prescribing and co-prescribing and conducted a series of longitudinal studies to evaluate trends, patterns, and relationships of opioid utilization in Kentucky, and provide recommendations for public health programs and policy actions to respond to the opioid crisis.


“When I worked on Kentucky’s prescription drug monitoring data, the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER), I found that state-level PDMP data  are a potentially valuable resource to track opioid prescribing trends and practices – which may inform education, intervention and policy changes. However, they have been underutilized and used differently across the states,” Luu said.


Why did Luu choose CPH for her graduate studies?


“I chose the UK College of Public Health for my MPH because of its high ranking among accredited public health schools, and balance between studying and my family issues. After studying for my MPH here, it was  the obvious for me to continue choosing at the College for my PhD. I knew I would have great mentorship and good academic environment here.”


Luu also cites the combined Epidemiology and Biostatistics doctoral program as a key factor in choosing to continue her graduate education at UK.


“CPH is also one of the few schools that has a doctoral program combining Epidemiology and Biostatistics, which satisfied my desire for undertaking advanced epidemiology while strengthening my biostatistics foundation and skills,” Luu said.


Luu has excelled as a student and researcher. In 2018, one of her dissertation studies on regional and rural-urban variations in trends and patterns of opioid analgesic prescribing in Kentucky was published in the Journal of Rural Health. After this publication, she was invited as a second reviewer of the Journal for three manuscripts regarding opioid prescribing patterns. In 2017, she won the CPH Research Day prize for best Academic Poster Presentation.


Next year, Luu will continue her work at CPH as a biostatistician for Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC), where she worked as a research assistant during her PhD program. In the long-term, she plans to pursue a research faculty position.


What is Luu’s advice for prospective graduate students at CPH?


“Identifying research topics you are interested in early is very important. It will help you to choose the appropriate courses in theory and skills and to make connections with your topics, as well as advisors who have research interests and experiences that fit your work. Professors at CPH are reachable, outstanding, inspiring, and very helpful to provide you with timely, practical, and thorough advice and guidance, which I consider the most important advantage of our program.”


By Allison Elliott-Shannon



Dr. Huong Luu

PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, December 2018



"Using Prescription Drug Monitoring Data to Inform Population Level Analysis of Opioid Analgesic Utilization"



Dr. Svetla Slavova, Biostatistics, Chair

Dr. Steve Browning, Epidemiology, Co-Chair

Dr. Heather Bush, Biostatistics

Dr. Trish Freeman, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, UK College of Pharmacy

Dr. Michelle Lofwall, UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research/UK College of Medicine



The University of Kentucky College of Public Health is a catalyst of positive change for population health, with a mission to develop health champions, conduct multidisciplinary and applied research, and collaborate with partners to improve health in Kentucky and beyond. ​