As just one part of an on-going study by Monadnock Voices for Prevention about prescription drug abuse in the Monadnock area, Keene State College released students’ findings on Feb. 1 following a semester’s worth of research. KSC students worked with Monadnock Voices and members of the community to examine both the effects and the overarching problems associated with prescription drug abuse, finding out how large and unrecognized the issue is.
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Two sections of health science professor Marjorie Droppa’s health and society class teamed up with Monadnock Voices, a local group whose mission is to inform about and prevent substance abuse in the region.
Droppa said the project was significant for students because it provided students the opportunity to do undergraduate research, gave students real-world experience in the community, addressed issues which can be incorporated into the American Democracy Project, and gave students the opportunity to do community service learning.
The study worked with the American Democracy Project to “engage the students in tackling a subject of prime concern in our community,” Droppa said. Students were given the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research while Monadnock Voices received valuable information to which will be used in a larger attempt to address prescription drug use in the Monadnock Region.
Droppa worked closely with Kelly Steiner, the prevention project director at Monadnock Voices.
“The information is critical to the strategic planning that is occurring at a regional and state level regarding abuse of prescription and over the counter medications,” Steiner said. “It provided data that shows this problem is across the lifespan, demonstrated some of the strategies that should be considered based on this data.”
Students spent the beginning of the semester preparing to interview people in the community with some connection to prescription drug abuse. They sent letters to influential people in the community, who gathered people to eventually sit down for hour-long focus groups with students. The classes were segmented into groups with different focuses.
Shelby Hall, a nursing major, and Faith Durford, a health science major, each participated in the study, but worked on different portions of the study. Hall focused on medical personnel and Durford focused on patients at the Phoenix House in Keene, a substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation center.
As the semester continued, the groups trained to conduct interviews, including practicing with dress rehearsals, leading up to the culminating focus groups. Durford and Hall said the members of focus groups remained anonymous and that questions were not aimed at specific, personal experiences, but about prescription drug abuse as a whole.
“The point was to see people’s views on prescription drugs in the Monadnock Region,” Hall said.
Hall and Durford stressed that there is no specific face of prescription drug abuse; abuse can be found across all statuses of society. “Everyone has something in their cabinet,” Durford said. “There is no profile, it’s everyone.”
They noted that one of the largest issues they found was the over-prescribing of medications. They said that doctors can prescribe too many pills at a time or patients have too much left over. This results in very accessible drugs, and because technically they’re legal, there isn’t a huge stigma on unnecessarily taking them.
“I think it’s a more prevalent issue than people realize,” Hall said, adding that much of the time, abusers can be highly functional.
Durford said economics can play into abuse, especially for the elderly. She said older people often share pills and store extra pills for an extended period of time, not realizing that they expire. She also said cancer patients sell their medication to help offset the costs of their treatment.
Although studies can pinpoint the types of people most like to abuse prescription drugs, little is known about why certain groups are more susceptible.
“The reason they sent us in is because we know some things about prescriptions drugs, but there are holes,” Durford said. As an example, she said teenage girls are more likely to abuse prescription drugs than teenage boys, but details about why aren’t known.
“It was a lot of hard work, but many of them said to me after that they felt that they had made a real difference in their community,” Droppa said.
Both Hall and Durford talked about how meaningful it was to actually talk to members of the community.
“Going into the nursing field, it definitely helps to know what you’re looking for,” Hall said.
After the focus groups were interviewed, the classes prepared presentations for members of the community. Hall said that the response was overwhelming and that two people cried.
“What we were studying and what we were talking about really mattered,” Hall said.
Ultimately, Durford said prescription drug abuse comes down to a cultural issue, calling society “pill-happy.” She said rather than getting to the root of issues, our society tends to prescribe temporary fixes.
“We need to take a more holistic approach,” Durford said.
Droppa said information gathered from the study will continue to aid Monadnock Voices in accomplishing their goals. In addition, students from the two classes will present the study at the Academic Excellence Conference this spring.
“I’m proud of them,” Droppa said. “This is a difficult topic, and it was a tremendous amount of work and they stepped up to the plate.”
Allie Bedell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.