Faculty Profile

Dr. Joanna L. Starrels, M.D.,  M.S.

Joanna L. Starrels, M.D., M.S.

Associate Professor, Department of Medicine (General Internal Medicine)

Areas of Research: Opioid management for patients with chronic pain, opioid tapering, treatment agreements, urine drug testing, medical marijuana, collaborative care models, opioid use disorder, opioid use in HIV care.

Professional Interests


Dr. Starrels is Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, in the Division of General Internal Medicine. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Addiction Medicine. Dr. Starrels is nationally recognized for her expertise in research, clinical care, education, and health policy to address the opioid crisis. Her research focuses on opioid management for patients with chronic pain with or without opioid use disorder. In particular, she studies the benefits and harms of opioid tapering, treatment agreements, urine drug testing, prescription monitoring programs, and medical marijuana use. She also studies the impact of opioid use on HIV outcomes, collaborative care models for integrating behavioral health care and pain management, and treatment of opioid use disorder in primary care. Her work has been funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Society of General Internal Medicine, the New York Community Trust, and the Einstein-Montefiore Center for AIDS Research. Her expertise has been recognized by invitations to serve as expert consultant to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the New York State Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for developing guidelines and initiatives to improve opioid prescribing.

Dr. Starrels joined the Einstein/Montefiore faculty in 2008. Her teaching and clinical care activities also focus on chronic pain and substance use. She is faculty in the Center on Comparative Effectiveness Research, leads a number of opioid and pain related initiatives, is teaching faculty in the Internal Medicine and Primary Care and Social Internal Medicine residency training programs, and is attending physician at the Montefiore Family Care Center where she focuses on caring for patients with chronic pain and opioid use.

Before joining Einstein/Montefiore, Dr. Starrels received her BA from Wesleyan University, where she majored in the Science in Society Program, and her MD from Jefferson Medical College. She completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a MS in Health Policy Research.


Selected Publications

  1. Starrels JL, Becker WC, Alford DP, Kapoor, A, Williams AR, Turner BJ. Treatment Agreements and Urine Drug Testing to Reduce Opioid Misuse in Patients with Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review. Annals of Internal Medicine.2010;152:712-720.
  2. Starrels JL, Becker WC, Weiner MG, Li X, Heo M, Turner, BJ. Low Use of Opioid Risk Reduction Strategies for Even High Risk Primary Care Patients with Chronic Pain. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2011;26(9);958-64.
  3. Starrels JL, Fox AD, Kunins HV, Cunningham CO. They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know: Internal Medicine Residents’ Knowledge and Confidence in Urine Drug Test Interpretation for Patients with Chronic Pain. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2012;27(11):1521-1527.
  4. Bachhuber MA, Hennesy S, Cunningham CO, Starrels JL. Increasing benzodiazepine prescriptions and overdose mortality in the United States, 1996-2013. American Journal of Public Health. 2016;106(4):686-8. 
  5. Starrels JL, Peyser D, Haughton L, Fox AD, Merlin J, Arnsten JH, Cunningham CO. When HIV treatment goals conflict with guideline-based opioid prescribing: A qualitative study of HIV treatment providers. Substance Abuse. 2016;37(1):148-53.
  6. Buonora M, Perez H, Heo M, Ning Y, Cunningham CO, Starrels JL. Race and gender are associated with opioid dose reduction among patients receiving chronic opioid therapy. Pain Medicine. 2018. 

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Research Information

In the News

Kicking a Dependence on Prescription Drugs Can Be Very Hard

Joanna Starrels, M.D., M.S., comments on the difficulty and danger of quickly stopping the use of prescription drugs, particularly tranquilizers such as Xanax and Ativan. Dr. Starrels is associate professor medicine at Einstein and an attending physician at Montefiore

The New York Times quotes Dr. Joanna Starrels about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's opioid prescription guidelines, which she and other experts believe are harming patients with severe chronic pain.

More media coverage