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Students Learn First Hand About Substance Use Disorder in Virtual Panel Discussion

By Nicole Carrera

Published on December 21, 2020

Pharmacy students learned about the experience of alumni with substance use disorders first hand during a virtual event on December 2, 2020. 

About 40 students and faculty attended a virtual panel discussion hosted by Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (PCP) and APhA Academy of Student Pharmacists’ (APhA-ASP)Generation Substance Use Disorder to learn about the stigma felt by individuals with substance use disorders and help to humanize the disease. 

George Downs, PharmD, professor of clinical pharmacy, moderated the event, which featured two recent USciences graduates sharing their stories of dealing with and overcoming substance use disorder. 

Jacob*, a graduate of the Pharmacology and Toxicology program at PCP, has been sober for more than six years, has a job working in his field, and conducts research including about COVID-19.  But his story of battling substance use disorder begins in his childhood and through his late teens into adulthood. He struggled with abuse, homelessness, getting kicked out of school, and acts of violence. 

In reflecting on his life, Jacob shared that he sometimes reflects on how he’s changed over time. “It’s cool looking at the person that I was ten years ago and the person that I am now. I’m a completely different person,” he said.

Jacob emphasized that the person struggling has to want to change, and that you can’t force recovery on anyone who isn’t ready. There were times in his life where family and friends tried to help him overcome his substance use, but he wasn’t ready yet and those attempts weren’t successful, he said. 

Chris, an alumnus who has been sober since 2017, said his journey with substance use disorders didn’t evolve until he was in college. 

Through his journey, Chris experienced homelessness, legal trouble, and the loss of family and friends. Since being sober, Chris is now dedicated to helping others through his work in the pharmacy field and being a resource for anyone else who may be struggling with substance use disorder.  

Both Jacob and Chris said that substance use disorder comes with a stigma that continues to impact their lives, and especially their careers.While both men have successful careers in their chosen fields, they expressed that the stigma of substance use disorder is something that continues to weigh on their minds. 

Rasha Abouelsaadate PharmD’22 helped to organize the event alongside Dr. Downs, and shared about the importance of events like this for students entering the healthcare field. 

"There is huge value to students hearing stories and experiences first hand..."

-- Rasha Abouelsaadate PharmD'22

There is huge value to students hearing stories and experiences, first hand, especially in regards to raw topics like SUDs,” Abouelsaadate explains. “ Getting to hear these perspectives while in school allows us to consciously be more aware of these stigma associated disorders and allows us to subconsciously work towards a solution to helping these people rather than being dismissive and taking the easy way out.”

Abouelsaadate continues by sharing that she has already received positive feedback from event attendees, who have found a lasting impact from hearing Jacob and Chris speak. 

I have had two peers approach me to thank Dr. Downs and me for having the event because it helped them realize how insensitive they were towards substance use disorders,” Abouelsaadate adds. “That alone makes me unbelievably happy because ultimately, the goal is to educate but in a more efficient and realistic way.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the speakers.

Categories: News, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Students, Alumni