Pharmacy students combat opioid epidemic, offer training

Pharmacy students trained public safety officers to deliver life-saving drug on Feb. 3


Courtesy of Dr. Kimberly Ferrence

Pharmacy students who presented narxolone administration training to public safety officers on Feb. 3. Left to right: Britnee Atherholt, Jennifer Lee, Sarah Ahearn, Austin Paisley, Lauren Albright, Quan Nham.

Between 2014 and 2015, Luzerne County had a 500 percent increase in opioid-related deaths, which is a larger increase than any other county in Pennsylvania, according to the 2015 DEA Intelligence Report’s Analysis of Drug-Related Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania.

To combat this epidemic, Wilkes University pharmacy students trained Public Safety officers on Feb. 3 as part of a course project through two training sessions that were about an hour each in length.

“This growing opioid epidemic has caused a great increase in the need for people to be trained in how to recognize and effectively respond to an overdose,” said P1 student Jennifer Lee, who was one of the students that partook in the training. Lee worked  alongside five other P1 students, Britnee Atherholt, Sarah Ahearn, Austin Paisley, Lauren Albright and Quan Nham.The training included a presentation about opioid use and the use of Naloxone (or Narcan), which is a drug that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose.

The presentation was mainly focused on Pennsylvania, and specifically, Wilkes-Barre. After the presentation, there was a brief video about how to properly administer Naloxone. This was followed by a live training session where the officers were able to get some hands on experience in administering the intranasal spray, Lee explained.

“The opioid/heroin issue is not going away anytime soon.  It is possible that anyone can see it.  Addiction can afflict anyone regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status, religion or upbringing.  Just around our campus there have been reports of locals being found in a state of overdose.  We are a community and need to look out for each other,” said Dr. Thomas Franko, who led the project. “Naloxone is incredibly easy to use, so everyone should know how to save a life.”

Although this is the first year the training has been conducted, Franko hopes to see it done annually from here on out. He has also contacted Misericordia University and King’s College to see if they would be interested in participating.

The presentation was part of a project for the Foundations of Pharmacy Practice course, which is co-taught by Dr. Kimberly Ference and Dr. Edward Foote.

“This presentation gave the students an opportunity to engage in self-directed learning by researching and preparing for a presentation related to a healthcare topic they were not exposed to in the curriculum,” Ference said. “Preparing for and executing this training gave them an opportunity to give back to the Wilkes Community while practicing and utilizing a skill that is very important in their future profession.”

Lee agreed, saying, “As pharmacists embrace their expanding role in patient care and education, teaching the proper use of opioids and naloxone is becoming an important public health contribution… as a future pharmacist, this training experience has allowed our group the opportunity to educate ourselves in effective education techniques, which is unique since many pharmacy students do not have such an opportunity… it shows me how much of a difference I can make as a future pharmacist.”

Franko initially worked with P3 students to create a new, more intense training than what is currently recommended by the state. Franko then took the training they developed and presented it to the P1 students, who helped further condense it into the “need to know” information for the Public Safety training. The students then practiced presenting to other pharmacy students for about two to three weeks.

Although most well-known for reversing the effects of an opioid overdose, Franko pointed out that Naloxone is not only used for that. He gave the example of a child that gets into his mother’s pain killers, a mother that is breastfeeding while on medication and thus it gets into her child’s system, or a grandmother that gets confused and takes more medication than she should. According to Franko, “Naloxone is just a precaution.” For those that do suffer from addiction, it is only the first step to getting them help.

Franko went on to say that there is a stigma against those that suffer from addiction. People often believe that they don’t need or deserve help.

“Society treats people with addiction as less than human and burdens on society.  In reality, addiction has relapse rates similar to high blood pressure and diabetes, the issue though is that symptoms are behavioral,” Franko said. “If your diabetes relapses your sugar goes up, if addiction relapses you rob a bank.”

As health professionals, however, they work with the mindset that no one life is greater than another, and it is part of their job to save every life they can.

“We need to overcome this social taboo in order to get these people the help they deserve,” Franko said.

Pennsylvania does require its own free Naloxone online training to be certified to administer Naloxone, Lee explained, and it is recommended that the officers get that certificate to prove their competency. This training can be found at

Anyone interested in undergoing this training is encouraged to contact Franko, as Lee said the group is more than willing to offer additional training.

“This training should be done everywhere,” Franko said. “There is no part of the country untouched by heroin and the growth in its use.

“Everyone’s life is worth saving, so it really is essential that anyone who may encounter an opioid overdose be able to respond quickly and effectively. Proper training can be the difference between whether or not someone survives an overdose or not.”