By SARA ARTHURS
ADA — Students at Ohio Northern University spent the spring semester learning about ways to address the opioid crisis.
The university, which just concluded its school year, offered an elective public health course on the epidemic this semester. Students read about various aspects of the issue and were asked to look at a specific geographical area’s approach to solving a part of the problem.
Ross Kauffman, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of public health at ONU, said the class drew a mix of public health majors and minors, as well as some majoring in other fields, such as pharmacy. Students looked at the issue on a national level, and focused specifically on Hardin County.
Kauffman said it’s an issue students are “all very familiar with,” because Ohio is so affected by the effects of opiate use. And, he said, there are people on campus who have family or friends personally affected.
The class used “Dreamland” by Sam Quinones as one of the texts, which focuses on both the pharmaceutical companies’ role in the spread of prescription opioid use, as well as what was happening in the heroin black market around the same time. They also studied the social determinants of the epidemic, such as adverse childhood experiences. Research — including that conducted by others at Ohio Northern — has found that people with a history of mental illness or trauma are more likely to abuse opioids than those without.
Kauffman said his style of teaching focused on problem-based learning. As opposed to the professor being the person at the front of the room who “allegedly knows everything,” he strove to be “a guide offering assistance” to the class.
Logan Kissell, a pharmacy student, said the topic “really hit home,” and trying to get the epidemic under control is “something I’m really passionate about.” Another pharmacy student, Allison Smith, said she was browsing elective courses and this one stuck out. It’s a more widespread problem than people realize, she said, and because opioid abuse usually starts with prescription drug abuse, she wanted to become more educated about the issue.
Smith led a presentation in one session on family-centered treatment, a therapy that has been shown to be more effective, as the person in treatment is doing so alongside family who are emotionally invested in their progress. As relationships already exist within the family, the person might be more willing to be open, which could prevent relapse, she said.
The class also talked about how, although health care providers are advised to try nonpharmaceutical treatment like chiropractic and massage for certain types of pain, insurance may not cover this. Insurance will, however, cover opioids.
Kauffman said this raises questions as to how to make these decisions — for example, you cannot pay for absolutely everything, and cannot pay for massage for everyone who thinks they might benefit from one. One student said it might be possible to differentiate between massage for an injury resulting from an accident, as compared to massage because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
“We need studies for this, or funding for studies,” another student said.
Kauffman said the class was examining one problem, but the American health care system is “a collection of problems. … What are the very real limits of the resources that we have available?”
And Kauffman said the political solutions often focus on cutting off the supply of drugs: “Supply, I think, receives a lot more attention” than demand.