Cross-Curricular Design Challenge: Stopping Opioid Abuse in Ohio

This is a cross-post of a piece originally published by Dayton Regional STEM School.

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By Chloe Johnson, Editor-in-Chief of The STEM Inquirer

Students in economics, government, and anatomy/physiology are preparing for a major project. This project was inspired by the Ohio STEM Learning Network, who created a challenge for STEM schools across the state to make initiatives to combat the opioid abuse problem in the state. Each class is taking a different approach to the situation. The government class will be creating/proposing legislation, the economics class will be analyzing the bills to determine if it is fiscally responsible, and the anatomy/physiology class will be investigating the different effects of opioid abuse on the body.

DRSS visit by experts
Dr. Sara Paton and Gary Gonnella speak to DRSS students about the heroin epidemic.

Before students dive into this project, they needed to learn about the problem from all three angles. Mrs. Durkee, the 11th> grade government teacher, said, “Ms. Campbell (the anatomy/physiology teacher) had the idea of bringing in someone she knew who can speak to the health concerns of drug abuse, and from a public health perspective at that, since what the juniors will be proposing is from a legal approach.” On Monday, January 23, 2017, the students listened to a presentation by Dr. Sara Paton who is the Deputy Health Commissioner of Montgomery County and the Director of the Masters in Public Health program at Wright State University, and Gary Gonnella, a licensed independent chemical dependency counselor.

Dr. Sara Paton and Gary Gonnella started their presentation by talking about their expertise in their respective fields. For over fourteen years, Dr. Paton has worked as an epidemiologist, and Gary has worked to reduce the stigma of addiction and eliminate roadblocks to recovery.  At the beginning of the presentation, they talked about the common terminology, which included opioids and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is legally made to treat pain or illegally mixed into heroin. Next, Mr. Gonnella said, “The brain reacts to an opioid like a natural chemical response. Physical dependence is not the same as addiction.”

DRSS student brainstorm
Students have been brainstorming ideas in their government class on how to solve the opioid crisis afflicting Ohio.

Within the presentation, data was displayed to show how drugs affect Montgomery Country and the entire state. A surprising fact was told to the students. “Montgomery County is the 2nd highest in the state in heroin overdoses.” The topic that students are investigating is very important to Ohio because addiction is like a disease. Mr. Gonnella suggested this, “Think about an atmosphere of treatment and recovery for addicts.” At the end of the presentation, the presenters spoke about neonatal abstinence syndrome, when babies are addicted to drugs.

On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, student met with Officers Larry Lane and Bruce Langos from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office. During the visit, students learned how the local law enforcement community is approaching the many problems that are caused by the opioid crisis. Both officers shared some of their own data on emergency responses, emergency treatment, rehabilitation programs the department encourages, and how the area is supplied with heroin.

This visit was inspired by a parent of a DRSS student. Mrs. Durkee articulated the rationale for their visit, explaining, “it’s the law enforcement personnel that will enforce [whatever laws are proposed], so we’d better learn from their expertise what has and has not worked up until this point.” This will be a very interesting project which will challenge both the students and the teachers because opioid abuse is not a clean topic.

However, Mrs. Durkee is most looking forward to “the ideas that students come up with or the directions students go in when formulating future change through policy and the integration with economics and anatomy/physiology.” She stated, “I’m going to learn so much about the science behind the effects on these drugs and the role that money plays in addiction.”

DRSS law brainstorm
Students will share their brainstorming ideas and hone their legislation after meeting with visiting Ohio Legislators next week here at DRSS.

According to Mrs. Durkee, the students are excited to have legislators visit the school to meet with students about the project next week. Visiting legislators will provide students with “an opportunity to ask further questions before writing legislation for their ideas. Then, economics students will research the financial feasibility of their legislation, as well as further investigate the macro and microeconomics of opioid and heroin drug systems.”

Finally, anatomy and physiology students will teach the other students how these drugs affect the body in order for all three courses to come together and build a comprehensive public campaign to educate young people on their solutions and the effect these drugs have on people.

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