Did you know that people who experience stigma toward their drug use are less likely to seek out help? And did you know that opioids are medications prescribed by doctors to treat persistent or severe pain? These are just two of the messages that are part of a Penn State Berks awareness and educational campaign on opioid addiction. The goal of the campaign is to change attitudes among faculty and students and to provide training for students.
As a result of the research of two professors, Penn State Berks received grant funding to create the awareness and educational campaign on opioid addiction. Penn State Berks was one of 13 institutions of higher education included in nearly $1 million in state grants for the prevention and reduction of opioid use among college students and for naloxone training on campus. The PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs awarded the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants in January 2020. Penn State Berks is the only college in Berks County and the only Penn State campus to be named an awardee.
The campaign will run through the end of October and it includes posters on campus, messages on college’s electronic bulletin boards, and social media posts.
Dr. Jennifer Murphy, associate professor of criminal justice, and Dr. Brenda Russell, professor of applied psychology, applied for the funding and have been working on the awareness campaign for the last year.
Russell explains that negative attitudes toward those who are addicted to opioids can be harmful. The attitudes of faculty and staff were evaluated before the awareness campaign and they will be evaluated again when the campaign ends. The goal is to change negative attitudes.
The professors learned about the grant through Murphy’s participation with the Berks Opioid Coalition. For the last year, the two professors have been collaborating on a research study titled “Assessing Addiction Knowledge and Attitudes of Police Officers toward People Who Use Opioids.”
This study has three specific goals: To assess addiction knowledge among police officers and the level of stigma police officers hold toward people who use drugs, to identify the individual-level characteristics of police officers that contribute to their levels of addiction knowledge and stigma, and to use the survey results to identify the need for an educational/intervention tool that could be developed and tested to increase addiction knowledge and reduce stigma levels among police officers.
Murphy and Russell have already put several programs into place on campus to address the prevention of opioid use among college students and provide naloxone training on campus. In December 2019, they invited representatives from the Caron Treatment Centers, an internationally recognized not-for-profit dedicated to addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment, research, prevention and medical education, located in Wernersville, Pa. Douglas Tieman, president and chief executive officer of Caron Treatment Centers, spoke at a faculty seminar, and the presentation was followed by a naloxone demonstration, which was completed with assistance from the Council on Chemical Abuse. Students also had a similar training in the spring semester. Faculty and students who attended the seminars received a naloxone kit and pre-and-post-test evaluations were conducted for both groups.
“Addiction is a brain disease but it still carries a lot of stigma,” explains Murphy. “Many people do not understand how addiction works; they see it as a moral flaw. We hope to educate students at Penn State Berks about the reality of addiction and how naloxone can save lives.
Governor Wolf said in a press conference, “Educating college students on the risk of opioid use and training institutions of higher learning on how to administer naloxone are two ways we can save lives and lessen the impact of this crisis.”
Murphy published a book in which she investigates various perspectives on drug addiction, titled Illness or Deviance? Drug Courts, Drug Treatment, and the Ambiguity of Addiction (Temple University Press, 2015). The book examines a drug court and affiliated drug treatment programs to see how addiction was constructed in each setting.
Russell’s other research areas include female offenders and intimate partner violence, and she has published books on this topic: Intimate Partner Violence and the LGBT+ Community (Springer, 2020), The Battered Woman Syndrome as a Legal Defense: History, Effectiveness, and Implications (2010), and Perceptions of Female Offenders (Spring 2013).