During his training in the MSTP Program at the University of Chicago (1965-1972), Dr. Ostrow co-founded the first gay community health center, now the Howard Brown Health Center of Chicago. There he identified Hepatitis B as a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among gay men, which led to his PI role in the Hep B Epidemiology and Vaccine Efficacy Studies (1976-81). As the founding PI of the subsequent Chicago Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (the MACS, 1983-1985), then co-PI of the Coping & Change Study of Men in the Chicago MACS (1985-1999), and later founder of the Behavioral Working Group (BWG) of the MACS (1991-2011), his clinical and research work has focused on the relationship between sexual behavior, drug use, drug control policy reform and the evolution of disease transmission and prevention among drug using persons. He has published 200 peer-reviewed papers, 50+ book chapters and presented 60+ times at American Medical and Psychiatric Meetings, Biological Psychiatry and ANCP Meetings, International AIDS Conferences, and NIH, CDC, VA and Foundation Advisory Councils regarding funding opportunities and innovative research methods for community-based and patient-centered research.
As a triple Boarded (Adult Psychiatry, Addiction Medicine [ASAM] and Cannabinoid Medicine [AACM]) physician-scientist, he is currently focused on the care of patients with co-morbid major psychiatric, substance use, and chronic medical conditions. This has led him to develop and evaluate Integrative, Harm-Reduction and relapse minimization treatment approaches that are both cost-effective and maximize the rehabilitation potential of these patients, rather than their isolation and stigmatization. As a result, he realized early on in the HIV/AIDS Epidemic that cannabis was unique among popular psychoactive drugs in that it did not facilitate transmission or progression of immunodeficiency, but instead was being used by many patients to ameliorate the side effects of anti-retroviral treatment and common symptoms related to AIDS, such as wasting and depression.
In 2007, Dr Ostrow received funding from MAPS to establish the Medical Marijuana Policy Advocacy Project (MMPAP) to educate physicians and national medical associations about the potential for Cannabis as a Medicinal product, and to develop research support and protections for patients enrolled in State regulated MC programs. As a result of that MC research advocacy, Dr Ostrow received NIH funding for the first pilot Translational Bridging Research Project aimed at developing cannabinoid-based HIV prevention and treatment protocols.
As the senior behavioral investigator in the MACS for over 30 years, Dr Ostrow has become one of the leading experts in the valid collection of data on “sensitive” behaviors of public health significance, and has held positions at two of the premiere academic survey research centers in the US: The Institute for Social Research (ISR) of the University of Michigan (1980-1987) and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago (2007-2012). At both institutions, he has collaborated with highly respected behavioral researchers on the origin of healthcare inequalities and the development of public health and community efforts to lessen the impacts of these inequalities on the health and quality of life of disadvantaged and vulnerable subpopulations.
Since the late ‘90s,Dr Ostrow has been active in changing failed national drug policies, such as cannabis prohibition and the resulting barriers to Medicinal Cannabis (MC) research in the US. Over this same period, Dr Ostrow has been organizing a Community-Based, Patient-Centered Clinical Cannabis Evaluation and Research Network (CBCCERN). Still in the pilot feasibility stage, he is presently preparing a series of papers describing the CBCCERN Rational, Methodology, and Types of Therapeutic Research Questions that can be addressed through prospective observational research. The NA CBCCERN would establish standardized longitudinal observational data collection on 100s of thousands of MC patients being treated for qualifying conditions in State authorized MC Programs. The ultimate goal of these current clinical efforts is the identification of effective, harm reduction/wellness oriented and compassionate treatment guidelines & policies, including integration of MC training into the Medical and other PHCP training curricula.
Dr Ostrow’s next career step is as the Clinical Director of VALEO Programs for LGBTQ Persons at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. He plans to utilize his broad range of experience in the further development of integrative therapies for complex mental health and addiction patients, often in the context of debilitating chronic physical health conditions, not adequately responsive to currently available therapies, and without the severe side effects of dependence and addiction.