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Standing before a room full of friends and classmates at Olney Charter High School in North Philadelphia, Elianna Montel asks her peers if they know what naloxone is.
“Naloxone is medication that is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by blocking opioid receptors,” she said. “I’m going to show you how to assemble a training kit and how to use it.”
Although she is confidently able to show her classmates how the nasal spray injector works, until recently, Montel didn’t know much about the lifesaving drug. One thing she said she is acutely aware of, is that the disease of addiction has touched her own family. More troubling, she says, is the number of teenagers she knows who talk about drug use.
The area of North Philadelphia near Olney Charter was the region of the city with the highest incidence of drug overdose deaths in 2016, according to records from the Philadelphia Department of Health.
This is why Fatima Ali PharmD’18 wanted to work with students to increase awareness about naloxone there.
“I was interested in working with high school students because I think that high school students have a big impact on other people, like their friends, their families, and other community members,” said Ali. “High school students have a big impact when they present to each other, and they learn better from each other than they would from someone of higher authority such as a doctor or pharmacist.”
With help from at the school’s faculty and staff, Ali connected with Alixandria Colon, Jennifer Betancourt, and Elianna Montel, three juniors at the school. Colon said she was glad she was able to educate her classmates about something so important.
“When I started this project, I didn’t even know what naloxone was at first,” Colon said. “I heard the name, and I really didn’t know how to pronounce it. And I learned that that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and that is, like, really important because that can help save a life in like the future.”
The project funded as part of Ali’s participation in the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program, which exposes health professions students to influential public health professionals and prepares them to be leaders in addressing population health challenges at the national and community level. Ali was one of 40 students nationwide selected to participate in the program. Scholarships are awarded to students to conduct a community-based health education project at their institution or community.
The program honors Paul Ambrose, MD, MPH, who was onboard American Airlines flight 77 that was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Dr. Ambrose was the seventh APTR Luther Terry fellow and senior clinical advisor in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Ali worked with the students for more than two months preparing for the presentation. The team brainstormed engaging and fun ways to get their classmates to learn about such a serious topic. To do so they made the presentation a game and awarded the team with the most points from quizzes and activities at the end of the hour a small prize. Ali also worked with the students to hone their presentation and public speaking skills.
Ali said she hopes to continue naloxone education in high schools so that as many lives can be saved in this epidemic as possible.
“I would like to reach out to teachers and parents next and give them, the same presentation with a little different twist,” said Ali. “By reaching out to them they can get naloxone in their school or their home or community.”