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Addressing Challenges Children and adolescents Encounter in Securing substance use and mental health Services.

At the ACCESS Lab, we envision a world where every child has early access to needed substance use and mental health interventions.

We focus on developing, testing and implementing digital interventions for risk identification and prevention among adolescents at high risk for substance use and mental disorders. We employ machine learning approaches to identify adolescents at high risk for substance use using large and complex data sources such as the electronic health records and digital software such as games. We are interested in mitigating risk for adolescent substance use and mental disorders through the implementation of effective digital interventions that address barriers in access to care. We are also interested in family-based interventions for the prevention of adolescent substance use.

Our mission is to improve access to care for every adolescent in need of substance use and mental health interventions. We are also committed to developing and implementing culturally-informed interventions that address racial/ethnic disparities.


  • NIDA – National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • CTBH – Center for Technology and Behavioral Health
  • Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
  • NIH AIM-AHEAD – National Institutes of Health Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning Consortium to Advance Health Equity and Researcher Diversity
  • Yale Child Study Center
  • Yale Center for Clinical Investigation


  • Assistant Professor of Child Psychiatry

    Dr. Aneni is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. She is an assistant professor of child psychiatry, biomedical informatics, and data science. The overall goal of her research is to improve access to preventive interventions for adolescents at risk for substance use and mental health problems. Her research interests focus on developing, testing, and implementing preventive digital interventions, particularly culturally informed family-based interventions for racial/ethnic minorities in community-based settings. She is also investigating the utility of digital tools in identifying adolescents at risk for substance use and mental disorders through digital biomarkers and machine learning approaches. Dr. Aneni’s research is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, National Institutes of Health (NIH) AIM-AHEAD program, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation.
  • Postgraduate Associate in the Child Study Center

    Jenny graduated from Fairfield University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology: Behavioral Neuroscience and a minor in Spanish. At Fairfield, she designed and conducted her thesis researching the cognitive function of nostalgia on autobiographical memory accessibility and quality across the lifespan. Additionally, she was involved in research investigating the impact of photo editing on memory and perception during her time as a research assistant in the Memory and Cognition Lab. At Yale, Jenny began working with Dr. Aneni in January 2022, and has been involved in many projects exploring digital interventions among adolescent populations at high risk for substance use and mental disorders. Jenny aims to pursue a PhD and is most interested in understanding the role of cognition in various outcomes across the lifespan. To actuate this goal, Jenny is currently a Postgraduate Associate in the ACCESS Lab at the Yale Child Study Center.


  • Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine; Associate Director of Pediatric Programs, Yale Program in Addiction Medicine; Associate Professor on Term, Chronic Disease Epidemiology

    Dr. Deepa Camenga is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Section of Research at Yale. She is a Physician-Scientist who is board certified in pediatrics and addiction medicine with expertise in adolescent addiction. Her research aims to improve the identification and treatment of substance use and substance use disorders among youth in pediatric settings. She is also the Associate Director for Pediatric Programs for the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine. In this role, she is one of a very few clinicians in the state that prescribes medication treatment for adolescents with opioid use disorder. She also leads an innovative addiction medicine tele-consult service for local school-based health centers and treats adolescents and young adults at the APT Foundation. In 2017, Dr. Camenga was elected to serve on a national American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Use and Prevention, tasked with protecting and improving the health and well-being of children and adolescents throughout the country.Dr. Camenga completed her medical education and residency training at the University of Rochester, NY. Dr. Camenga completed a fellowship in health services research through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at Yale.
  • Founding Director of Youth4Wellness at Yale, General Internal Medicine

    Claudia-Santi F. Fernandes, Ed.D., LPC, MCHES, NCC is a youth mental health and substance misuse expert with experience in public schools, clinical settings, and research institutions. Previously, her work focused on a practitioner-based approach that concentrated on health education, social and emotional learning (SEL), and school climate. She served as a former public school teacher, bilingual school counselor in New York City, and part of the founding leadership team at Bard High School Early College Newark where she developed and oversaw student-centered policies, programs, and structures. As part of her doctoral studies, she explored facilitators and barriers to the implementation of school wellness policies. She was also a project director at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where she led the earlier stage of development for the inspirED Online Resource Center. Recognizing the impact and reach of evidence-informed, technology-based interventions to improve mental health and well-being in youth, she completed her postdoctoral studies in the design and evaluation of digital interventions at the Yale School of Medicine. Since her transition to a research career, she continues to apply a public health approach to reach more students and to improve youth mental health and well-being outcomes in schools with a specific focus on reducing the risk of suicide. Currently, Dr. Fernandes is the Director of Research and Evaluation at Born This Way Foundation and an assistant clinical professor in the Child Study Center and of Biomedical Informatics and Data Science at the Yale School of Medicine. She is a former Yale Center for Clinical Investigation Scholar and Assistant Professor of Medicine (General Medicine) where she received a career development award by NIH/NCATS to design and to evaluate a digital game to prevent suicide among youth who misuse substances, including opioids. In her current role, she remains the Founding Director of Youth4Wellness at Yale and collaborates with XRPediatrics, CHIL@Yale, and The ACCESS Lab. She previously worked with play2PREVENT Lab. In her role at the play2PREVENT Lab, she served as the Deputy Director of Mental Health & Well-Being and the Project Director of a NIH-/NIDA-funded Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative to address opioid misuse in youth in school-based health centers. She was also a Guest Editor in the forthcoming Supplemental Issue in Prevention Science Journal highlighting the coordinated efforts among 10 HEAL research projects across the nation in preventing opioid misuse. Other research interests focus on youth-led participatory action research and the translation of policies into practices and successful transitions from high school to post-secondary education, employment, and healthcare. Dr. Fernandes aims to use evidence-based research to inform federal-, state-, and local-level policies and to provide support to schools in their youth-led implementation efforts. She served on the Board of Directors for the Connecticut Association of School-Based Health Centers as Treasurer. Dr. Fernandes also practices as a licensed professional counselor and serves on the Digital Well-Being Advisory Board at the Peer Health Exchange.
  • Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (General Pediatrics); Co-Director, XR Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, General Pediatrics

    Kimberly Hieftje, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at Yale Pediatrics and Director of XRPeds, which focuses on the development and evaluation of videogame interventions using extended reality (virtual reality, augmented reality, etc) for health prevention and promotion, behavior change, and education in adolescents and young adults. She is currently involved in the development and testing of several health behavior change XR and game-based interventions and has published frequently on developing, evaluating, and implementing serious games. She has worked on games that have focused on topics including vaping/e-c-cigarette prevention, tobacco use prevention, risk reduction in adolescents, HIV/STI prevention, HIV/STI testing, empowering girls around healthy decision making, bystander intervention, LGBTQ bullying, school climate, and alcohol harm reduction.Dr. Hieftje was a K12 Scholar in the Yale Implementation Science program (YSIS), where she focused on understanding the factors associated with successful implementation of videogame interventions in schools. Dr. Hieftje is also the editor-in-chief at the Games for Health Journal.
  • Assistant Professor of Biostatistics (Health Informatics)

    Dr. Terika McCall is an Assistant Professor in the Biostatistics Department (Health Informatics Division) at the Yale School of Public Health, secondary faculty at the Yale School of Medicine’s Biomedical Informatics & Data Science Section, and Director of the Consumer Health Informatics Lab (CHIL) at Yale. Dr. McCall’s research interests focus on reducing disparities in mental health service access and use through technology. Specifically, she examines the use of telehealth modalities to deliver mental health services and resources to communities that are underserved. Dr. McCall’s expertise is in user-centered design and usability testing of digital health tools. She has experience leading multidisciplinary teams in industry and academia in the development of digital health tools, and currently teaches a course on the topic, BIS 640/SBS 640: User-Centered Design of Digital Health Tools at Yale School of Public Health. As Director of CHIL, Dr. McCall provides guidance to faculty and students in the development of digital health tools, such as clinical decision support tools, mobile apps, and wearables for diverse populations.
  • Associate Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences)

    Dr. Ijeoma Opara is an Associate Professor of Public Health in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at the School of Public Health. She is also the founder and director of the Substance Abuse & Sexual Health Lab ( Her research interests focus on HIV/AIDS, STI, and substance use prevention for urban youth, racial and gender specific prevention interventions for Black girls, and community-based participatory research with urban youth. Dr. Opara has received many awards for her work in prevention research from the American Public Health Association, National Council on Family Relations, and AcademyHealth. Most recently, Dr. Opara was named the 2020 recipient of the NIH Director's Early Independence Award, which funds her 5-year community-based study on youth substance use, mental health outcomes, and neighborhoods in Paterson, New Jersey. The Early Independence Award is given to junior scientists through the High Risk-High Reward program, whom who have demonstrated exceptional ability to engage in independent research. Dr. Opara's teaching experiences includes her former appointment as an Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare from 2019-2021, where she taught graduate-level child and family social work practice courses. She also worked as an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of Social Work teaching a graduate level adolescent development course and at Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning & Social Policy where she taught an undergraduate social justice in public health course. Dr. Opara received her PhD in Family Science & Human Development at Montclair State University, a Master of Social Work from New York University (with a specialization in Primary & Behavioral Health Integrated Care), a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from New York Medical College, and a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from New Jersey City University. During her doctoral studies, Dr. Opara received an external pre-doctoral fellowship from the Behavioral Sciences Training on Drug Abuse Research housed at New York University funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse which funded her dissertation research and doctoral training.

Alumni & Students


  • Chandler Brown


  • Catherine Jeon