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Department of Nursing Education joins statewide opioid abuse prevention effort

Taking part in the opioid abuse prevention program are (l. to r.) Dr. Doris Burkey, assistant professor of nursing education; Dr. Barbara Spencer, assistant professor of nursing education; and Dr. Sharon Mailey, acting dean for and chair of Shepherd’s Department of Nursing Education.

Eighth grade students in six Eastern Panhandle counties will learn the dangers of prescription painkillers and other opioids through a partnership between Shepherd University’s Department of Nursing Education and the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General, which is expanding its drug abuse prevention program aimed at middle school students in the region.

“We’re just thrilled that we have this opportunity to partner with the attorney general’s office,” said Dr. Sharon Mailey, acting dean for and chair of Shepherd’s Department of Nursing Education. “It’s phenomenal that our students will have an impact in this community with this initiative by contributing to the prevention and intervention of drug abuse.”

“Shepherd University continues to be a key player in meeting health care needs in our state,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “Adding Shepherd’s Department of Nursing Education to the roster expands our geographic footprint and means more opportunities to reach students across the state. Working together to educate students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse will lead to a brighter future for West Virginia.”

The attorney general’s office will coordinate events and provide Shepherd’s nursing department with a detailed curriculum. Dr. Doris Burkey and Dr. Barbara Spencer, both assistant professors of nursing education, will supervise about 30 senior-level nursing students who will make presentations to eighth graders in 15 schools in Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, and Morgan counties. The curriculum covers multiple aspects of the opioid epidemic, including the connection between prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction, prevention, and the long-term impact of drug use.

Mailey said studies have found that addiction really starts in the teenage years, that one in five teens have abused a prescription pain reliever, and 60 percent who have abused a prescription painkiller did so before the age of 15.

“It’s important that we reach these children in the eighth grade because that’s about age 13 and it gives them the information that’s essential so they can make smart decisions and make the right choices,” Mailey said. “Some children think if it’s a prescription, it’s safe, and it’s not. It’s important to help them understand prescriptions aren’t always safe, that they shouldn’t take someone else’s prescription, and if the prescription is for one thing they shouldn’t take it for something else.”

This is one of several efforts by Shepherd’s nursing department to address the state’s opioid problem. Mailey said information about opioid abuse is threaded throughout the curriculum for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level students. In September of 2016, the department hosted a conference titled “The Hidden Epidemic of Opioid Abuse in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle” that brought together healthcare providers, public officials, and students to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

Mailey said working with the attorney general’s office is a logical next step and one that will give Shepherd students the opportunity to have a lasting impact on the greater community.

“If we can begin to change the culture by informing and educating, we certainly want to partner with the attorney general’s office and the middle schools to make a difference with these children,” Mailey said. “When they graduate, Shepherd students will go back into these communities to work as professional nurses, so we want to equip them with the skills to address this issue and intervene to help people.”