Pharmacy and High School Students Team Up to Address Prescription Drug Abuse

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One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it and one of the best ways to honor one’s profession is to mentor others. The national Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) gives associate clinical professor of Pharmacy Practice Marissa Salvo’s students a chance to do both.

Pharm4Me challengeThe goal of the Pharm4Me Challenge is for teams consisting of pharmacy students and one or more high school students to collaborate in finding innovative solutions to medication or health related-problems in their communities. Last semester Pharm.D. candidates Brett Chen ’18, Mariano Gagliardo ’18, Laura Kurjanowicz ’18 , and Brenda Yik ’18  all stepped up to team with Newington High School student Dami Killanin.  Then a sophomore at Newington, Dami had expressed an interest in a future career in medicine.

“I have an amazing guidance counselor who knows I want to be a pediatric oncologist, as well as eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in pathology and cancer research. ” said Killanin. I heard about the Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge, and was immediately interested,” said Killanin.

As soon as the pharmacy students met Killanin, they were impressed with her intelligence and commitment to the project. Together, they focused on the problem of prescription drug abuse, specifically, the lack of substantial and meaningful drug abuse education in the school district’s health education curriculum. The group also examined the important role that pharmacists play in their communities, providing valuable advice about both over-the-counter and illicit substances that are most commonly involved with abuse.

One of the UConn students knew a pharmacist who has battled substance abuse and the team’s proposal was to invite this individual to speak to students during May’s National Prevention Week — an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental health and/or substance use disorders. The proposal suggested that a presentation should occur once a year within the school’s health education curriculum and would include an evening program open to students, parents, and residents of the community.  Supplemental readings and videos dealing with prescription drug abuse would also be provided to students. The goal program, they concurred, is to be ‘informative, interactive, and engaging. The longer term purpose of the program was to raise awareness in schools across the community and to expand across the country helping to reduce the amount of prescription drug misuse and abuse amongst teenagers.

This video created by Newington High School students features Killanin and her program:

UConn’s Yik said it was inspiring to see a high school student who has a passion for real world issues and who is trying to make an impact. “… in pharmacy school, we often attend lectures, professional meetings, and take exams – and then repeat the cycle,” Yik said. “Participating in the Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge allowed me the opportunity to be more creative and to use that creativity to help seek solutions to medication-related problems in the community.”

While their submission was not a challenge winner, Salvo says she was impressed by the time, effort, and attention to detail exhibited by both her students and Killanin.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for pharmacy students to connect with a high school student and share their knowledge with someone who is just beginning to make career decisions,” she said.  They were able to get to know someone who is younger and to experience first-hand how satisfying it is to be a mentor.  I’m looking forward to having my students participate in the Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge in the future.”

This year’s UConn participants include some of Salvo’s upcoming rotation students. The high school student they will be working with is Jiss Joseph, again from Newington High School.

Sheila Foran contributed to this article.