College pilots prescription drug safety course

by Lex Kang | 1/12/18 2:10am

As the United States struggles with an opioid abuse crisis, New Hampshire has faced unusually high rates of drug abuse. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 39 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the Granite State, the third-highest rate in the nation.

In response, the Student Wellness Center and Dick’s House are working together this term to promote a new preventive education program for Dartmouth students. The Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention program, available online through the Student Wellness Center’s Alcohol and Other Drug Resources web page, is an interactive educational program created by EVERFI, the same service that provides matriculating first-years with education on alcohol safety. Lead BASICS counselor Brian Bowden said that the structure of the new program is similar to the pre-matriculation education course.

“It’s to help [students] increase their knowledge of how to legally use prescriptions,” Bowden said. “It talks about stimulants, depressants and opiates … in good detail.”

But neither Bowden nor Student Wellness Center director Caitlin Barthelmes had strong concerns about prescription drug misuse at Dartmouth, despite the College’s location in a high-risk area.

“We don’t have that many other drugs being used [on campus],” Bowden said. “Prescription drug use is fairly low as far as self-reported usage [goes].”

Barthelmes emphasized that maintaining a low rate of prescription drug misuse on campus requires extra preventive care.

“We like to take a preventive lens towards a variety of health subjects, and prescription drug misuse is one of those subjects,” she said.

Though other EVERFI programs on alcohol and sexual assault are mandatory for entering first-years, the prescription drug program is currently in a trial phase and available to all students. The project is far from its final stages, and the Student Wellness Center is looking for feedback on the site’s popularity, accessibility and efficacy. Student knowledge assessments at the beginning and end of the program will measure how much safety knowledge a student gains and retains through the program, Barthelemes said, adding that the Student Wellness Center is working on creating an evaluation survey for students to provide feedback after they complete the program.

Barthelmes said that beyond an informational section on drugs, the program also promotes healthy behaviors and attitudes toward drugs.

“Not only is [the program] helpful in preventing misuse, but it’s also a tool for Dartmouth students to prepare for adulthood,” Barthelmes said. “It walks you through [how to] look at a medication label … so you can feel familiar with the substance you’re about to put in your body, [increasing] people’s comfort and knowledge about what they’re going to use.”

According to Barthelmes, the program also details the procedure for bystander intervention. Learning how to identify signs of potential drug misuse in friends and peers is one of the most important parts of the program, as well as one of its most applicable parts to Dartmouth, she said.

To successfully test the program on Dartmouth students, the Student Wellness Center made the program accessible to all students on campus and partnered with Dick’s House to promote the program.

“[Bowden] created some [information] cards for [Dick’s House providers] that we could consider handing out to students when we prescribe drugs,” said director of Dick’s House clinical medical services and staff physician Ann Bracken Med’89.

She added that Dick’s House’s pharmacy was cooperating with clinical medical services to specifically target students in possession of prescription drugs.

Dick’s House’s other area of interest is how this program will affect drug use on campus, Bracken said. Drug misuse is not a strong concern at Dick’s House, she said, but many students have prescriptions for stimulants for various medical conditions, so she recognizes the possibility of drug misuse and believes preventive care is a good idea.

“It’s not that common for students to come [to us] saying, ‘I have a problem [where I have to] refuse to give medication to somebody,’” she said. “But people can go to counseling … or to us, worried about their own drug use or their friend’s drug use.”

After evaluating student responses to the program at the end of the winter term, Barthelmes said that the Student Wellness Center hopes to make necessary adjustments to improve the program for spring term.