The Accidental Economist

Jeremy BrayAdjunct Professor and Economist, Dr. Jeremy Bray’s research on alcohol abuse impacts health policies.

Until recently, UNCG alumnus and adjunct professor Dr. Jeremy Bray was a Senior Fellow in Health Economics at RTI International.  Jeremy is an expert in the economics of substance abuse, mental health issues and behavioral health interventions. But economics was not always his career calling.

Jeremy joined UNCG’s undergraduate program as a music major with a euphonium concentration. While watching another euphonium player during a concert, he had an epiphany.

I knew I wasn’t made for it

He transferred to the psychology program the following semester. After all, his father was a psychologist. During this time, he was persuaded by his roommate to take a macroeconomics course. On the first day, the class was given a quiz by Dr. Stuart Allen, who was currently the head of the Departments of Economics at that time.

It was a quiz on economic concepts. I went back to my room fully intending to drop the course. Later, my roommate told me not to drop the course because apparently, I had made the highest grade in the class.

Jeremy’s command of the subject earned him a Bryan Fellowship to pursue his master of arts in applied economics and, eventually, the Formby Award for his master’s thesis. He also met his wife, Lou, a fellow student at UNCG, and they were married at the Alumni House.

Jeremy went on to work for RTI International where his research focused on substance abuse. At the same time, he also worked on his doctoral degree in economics from UNC-Chapel Hill. His dissertation paper focused on alcohol use and wage determination.

Jeremy has worked as the project director of the national, cross-site evaluation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA)’s Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program. He was also the principal investigator of the data and methodological coordinating center for the NIH and CDC funded Work, Family, and Health Network. He is an assistant editor for Addiction and has published his research findings in several peer-reviewed journals. Jeremy says he loves teaching and advising students in his position as adjunct associate professor at University College Dublin, Ireland, and at UNCG.

Since alcohol abuse is the third leading cause of death in the US and worldwide, his research has tremendous health and policy implications.

It is not such a simple issue. We tried the prohibition experiment which was a failure. Almost 10 percent of people are alcohol dependent. If I can find some of the nuanced approaches to solve the harms caused by alcohol without necessarily making the alcohol-user a criminal, then that’s something I’d like to do. That’s where SBIRT comes into play. It’s a way of helping people consume alcohol in a responsible way.

Jeremy wants to continue to conduct meaningful research, teach and raise his three kids.

I like being an economist. I wouldn’t have been an economist if I hadn’t met Dr. Stuart Allen. UNCG has made me who I am. I am not looking for accolades or awards. At the end, I simply want to make people’s lives better.

Update: In August 2013, Bray became the Department Head of Department of Economics at The Bryan School. That’s Doing something bigger altogether!

By Aparna Das, Contributor
Photography by Bert VanderVeen