Laboratory of Niranjan S. Karnik, MD, PhD

The Karnik Lab is focused on community-based interventions for high-risk populations with psychiatric and substance use disorders. In the past, he has worked with refugee children on the Pakistan-Afghan border, street children in India, foster youth in Central Illinois, and incarcerated youth in California. He worked at a youth homeless shelter in San Francisco and is continuing this work with homeless youth in Chicago. Another major focus of his research is on using mobile health technologies to bridge the needs of vulnerable populations and enable providers to deliver services to underserved populations.

Dr. Karnik is based in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences in the Section of Community Behavioral Health and maintains appointments in the Section of Child Psychiatry and at the College of Nursing at Rush University. At the Rush Medical College, Dr. Karnik is Associate Dean for Community Behavioral Health. He served as medical director of The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and their Families at Rush. Finally, he is Co-Director of the KL2 Training Program and Director of the Center for Underserved Populations & Innovative Intervention at the Rush-University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine.

Our work

Dr. Karnik has several ongoing research projects. If you have questions about this research, please email research manager Randy Boley or call (312) 563-6645.

New Interventions for Substance Misuse

Substance use disorders are widely acknowledged as a major source of medical and psychiatric difficulties for patients and families. Dr. Karnik has been working with populations that disproportionately face challenges with substance misuse including alcohol, illicit drugs, cannabis and opiates. He and his team are working to develop scalable and population-based strategies for treatment of these disorders, and for expanding access the care. In addition, he has support for this research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and also has had a training grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

For more information see identifier# NCT02703116.

Collaborators: Kathy Delaney, PhD, PMH-NP, FAAN (Rush University), Robert Garofalo, MD, MPH (Lurie Children’s Hospital/Northwestern), Lisa Kuhns, PhD, MPH (Lurie Children’s Hospital/Northwestern), Geri Donenberg, PhD (University of Illinois at Chicago), John Schneider, MD, MPH (University of Chicago)

Funders: National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA041071 & UG1 DA049467), Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (U79 TI025387)

The Stepping Stone Project

The primary purpose of this study is to examine the acceptability of delivering mental health interventions to abused homeless youth via smartphone technology. Additionally, we are investigating the extent to which these interventions improve trauma-related psychological symptoms and are aiming to establish smartphone usage patterns among homeless youth to inform future technology-based interventions. To accomplish this, we are providing homeless youth from The Night Ministry shelter with a smartphone and offering them several therapeutic interventions over the phone: three brief cognitive behavioral therapy sessions with a therapist, the ability to text or call the therapist between sessions, two applications designed to improve relaxation and sleep hygiene, and daily health tips via push notifications.

Collaborators: Alyson Zalta, PhD (University of California, Irvine), Stephen Schueller, PhD (University of California, Irvine), Dominika Winiarski (Rush), Dale Smith (Rush/Olivet Nazarrene University), The Night Ministry

Funders: Hedge Funds Care/Help for ChildrenSparrow Mobile, State of Illinois/SAMHSA TTI

Computation and Systems-Based Approaches to Substance Misuse

Dr. Karnik designed and launched the Substance Use Intervention Team (SUIT) at Rush. Research on this model is ongoing but the preliminary results show significant clinical impact and reduced length of stay from using this model. The program is also expanding via collaboration with the Churpek/Afshar Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to examine the ways that Natural Language Processing can be used to identify high-risk patients and to help guide targeted interventions.


Funders: National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA051464, R01 DA041071 & UG1 DA049467), Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (U79 TI025387)

Military Veterans & Families

As the former medical director of The Road Home Program: The National Center of Excellence for Veterans and their Families at Rush, Dr. Karnik helped support research on PTSD among veterans, military sexual trauma, and treatment of miltary families. He continues at the Road Home Program as a Senior Advisor and researcher.

Funders: Bob Woodruff Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, Chicago Foundation for Women, Field Foundation, McCormick Foundation/Welcome Back Veterans Initiative

Selected publications

Thompson HM, Faig W, VanKim NA, Sharma B, Afshar M, Karnik NS. Differences in length of stay and discharge destination among patients with substance use disorders: The effect of Substance Use Intervention Team (SUIT) consultation service. PLoS One. 2020;15(10):e0239761. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239761. eCollection 2020. PubMed PMID: 33035229.

Dickins KA, Buchholz SW, Ingram D, Braun LT, Hamilton RJ, Earle M, Karnik NS. Supporting Primary Care Access and Use among Homeless Persons. Soc Work Public Health. 2020 Jul 1;35(6):335-357. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2020.1809589. Epub 2020 Aug 30. PubMed PMID: 32865153.

Stiles-Shields C, Potthoff LM, Bounds DT, Burns MTS, Draxler JM, Otwell CH, Wolodiger ED, Westrick J, Karnik NS. Harnessing Phones to Target Pediatric Populations with Socially Complex Needs: Systematic Review. JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2020 Aug 26;3(2):e19269. doi: 10.2196/19269. Review. PubMed PMID: 32845244; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7481873.

Bounds DT, Winiarski DA, Otwell CH, Tobin V, Glover AC, Melendez A, Karnik NS. Considerations for working with youth with socially complex needs. J Child Adolesc Psychiatr Nurs. 2020 Jul 20;. doi: 10.1111/jcap.12288. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 32691491; NIHMSID:NIHMS1624281.

Kuhns LM, Carlino B, Greeley K, Muldoon AL, Karnik N, Thompson H, Garofalo R, Rahmandar M. A chart review of substance use screening and related documentation among adolescents in outpatient pediatric clinics: implications for practice. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2020 May 25;15(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s13011-020-00276-4. PubMed PMID: 32450882; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7249384.

Held P, Klassen BJ, Boley RA, Wiltsey Stirman S, Smith DL, Brennan MB, Van Horn R, Pollack MH, Karnik NS, Zalta AK. Feasibility of a 3-week intensive treatment program for service members and veterans with PTSD. Psychol Trauma. 2020 May;12(4):422-430. doi: 10.1037/tra0000485. Epub 2019 Jul 18. PubMed PMID: 31318250; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6980160.

To D, Sharma B, Karnik N, Joyce C, Dligach D, Afshar M. Validation of an alcohol misuse classifier in hospitalized patients. Alcohol. 2020 May;84:49-55. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2019.09.008. Epub 2019 Sep 28. PubMed PMID: 31574300; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7101259.

Sharma B, Dligach D, Swope K, Salisbury-Afshar E, Karnik NS, Joyce C, Afshar M. Publicly available machine learning models for identifying opioid misuse from the clinical notes of hospitalized patients. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2020 Apr 29;20(1):79. doi: 10.1186/s12911-020-1099-y. PubMed PMID: 32349766; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7191715.

Click here for an expanded list of published work.

Contact Information

Niranjan S. Karnik, MD, PhD
The Cynthia Oudejans Harris, MD Professor of Psychiatry
Phone: (312) 942-8085

Randy Boley, BA
Research Manager
Phone: (312) 563-6645

Dr. Karnik’s Professional/Research Feed
Link to Twitter