Jessica S. Merlin, MD, PhD, MBA

  • Associate Professor of Medicine, Tenure Stream

Dr. Merlin is an Associate Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). She is a physician and is board certified in internal medicine, infectious disease, palliative care, and addiction medicine, and runs a pain and palliative care clinic embedded in an HIV patient-centered medical home.  She is also a PhD-trained behavioral scientist and NIH-funded clinician-investigator. Her research includes foundational work on the pathophysiology, clinical epidemiology, and behavioral management of chronic pain in people with HIV. This work has extended to management approaches to pain and opioid misuse/use disorder in individuals with serious illness in palliative care settings. She has been recognized nationally for her work with three Young Investigator awards from relevant societies, an Inspirational Leader Under 40 Award from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and a Cambia Foundation Sojourns Scholar Leadership Award. She is an active scientific mentor to trainees at the doctoral, post-doctoral, and junior faculty level, as is the Director of Mentoring for Pitt's Institute for Clinical Research Education as well as the Associate Program Director for Research for Pitt's Internal Medicine residency and Director of the General Internal Medicine research fellowship.

Dr. Merlin is also an avid foodie and runs the blog What To Eat In Pittsburgh. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaMerlinMD.

Education & Training

  • BS (Biology & History and Policy), Carnegie Mellon University, 2000
  • MD, University of Pennsylvania, 2005
  • MBA, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 2005
  • Residency (Internal Medicine), Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 2008
  • Fellowship (Infectious Diseases), Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 2010
  • Fellowship (Palliative Care), Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, 2011
  • PhD (Health Behavior), University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2017

Representative Publications

Merlin JS, Young SR, Arnold R, Bulls HW, Childers J, Gauthier L, Giannitrapani KF, Kavalieratos D, Schenker Y, Wilson JD, Liebschutz JM. Managing opioids, including misuse and addiction, in patients with serious illness in ambulatory palliative care: a qualitative study. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. 2019.

This exploratory study aimed to: (1) identify the challenges palliative care clinicians face when prescribing opioids in ambulatory settings and (2) explore factors that affect opioid decision-making.

Merlin JS, Samet JH, Cheng DM, Lira MC, Tsui JI, Forman LS, Colasanti J, Walley AY, Del Rio C, Liebschutz JM. Marijuana use and its associations with pain, opioid dose, and HIV viral suppression among persons living with HIV on chronic opioid therapy. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 2019;82(2):195-201.

This study did not detect an association between marijuana use and opioid misuse behaviors, opioid dose, or pain; in an exploratory analysis, current marijuana use was associated with 3× greater odds of having a detectable viral load.

Merlin JS, Long D, Becker WC, Cachay ER, Christopolous KA, Claborn KR, Crane HM, Edelman EJ, Lovejoy TI, Mathews WC, Morasco BJ, Napravnik S, OʼCleirigh C, Saag MS, Starrels JL, Gross R, Liebschutz JM. Marijuana use is not associated with changes in opioid prescriptions or pain severity among people living with HIV and chronic pain. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 2019;81(2):231-237.

Of 433 people living with HIV and chronic pain, 28% reported marijuana use in the past 3 months; neither increases nor decreases in marijuana use were associated with changes in pain severity, and marijuana use was not associated with either lower odds of opioid initiation or higher odds of opioid discontinuation.

Merlin JS, Patel K, Thompson N, Kapo J, Keefe F, Liebschutz J, Paice J, Somers T, Starrels J, Childers J, Schenker Y, Ritchie CS. Managing chronic pain in cancer survivors prescribed long-term opioid therapy: a national survey of ambulatory palliative care providers. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2019;57(1):20-27.

Online survey revealed that palliative care providers are comfortable with many aspects of managing chronic pain in cancer survivors on long-term opioid therapy, although challenges persist, including the lack of systems-based approaches and training in addiction treatment.

Click here for a more complete bibliography of Dr. Merlin's works.

Research Interests

  • Chronic pain in PLWH
  • Chronic pain in primary care
  • Palliative care
  • Chronic pain and opioid use disorder in serious illness