Hampton students exposed to harsh facts of opioid addiction
Students at the Hampton Township School District have been getting perhaps some of the most important education they'll ever receive thanks to a variety of speakers on addiction, including Dr. Charles Thomas Brophy, a local emergency medicine and addiction doctor.
Brophy is also one of the keynote speakers at the second Hampton Community Opioid Partnership on April 12. from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hampton Community Center.
Like other speakers, he has been volunteering his extra time talking to students at the middle and high school and he's sharing with them the science of opioid addiction and, in turn, getting a lot of response from students.
Recently, he spoke to more than 200 eighth-graders at Hampton for about 45 minutes, and they responded with about 30 minutes of “deep” and “sophisticated” questions, he said.
He mostly covers the basics of what opiates are, where they come from, as well as how they work in the body and the brain, what happens over time and why addicts behave abnormally.
Since middle and high school is the age where pill experimentation can begin, he tries to connect the dots between pills and heroin and how easy and fast it can happen.
“The end goal of the talk is to show that brain changes begin with the very first dose … and therefore we focus on prevention being the safest option,” said Brophy.
While there's no common questions, he said students seem to be curious about neurophysiology, or how things like marijuana and vaping play into the addiction centers of the brain, he said. There was so much feedback at the recent presentation that HMS Principal Marlynn Lux eventually had to step in and end it since it was going well over time.
“We were both very pleased with how engaged and interested the kids remained throughout the talk,” said Brophy.
High school Principal Dr. Marguerite Imbarlina recently had Brophy come in and speak with freshman and sophomores in biology and chemistry classes, and then later to juniors and seniors. He joined the company of a local mother who lost her son to addiction, a person in recovery, and speakers from the FBI and DEA also presented related data on drugs and use.
She said Brophy complimented the other speakers as he “brought the science behind the issue, which appeals to many of our students,” said Imbarlina. The feedback she got from students was that his message felt “real.”
Brophy joins a host of other speakers at the upcoming summit April 12. This time he will present on the basics of opioids and how they work, as well as the social issues that led to this epidemic.
There are several reasons why he volunteers so much time to this issue. As an emergency room doctor, he said he's seen some serious cases related to the epidemic. On a personal level, his brother was a drug addict who is now in recovery and despite his struggles, has a huge heart and is always helping others.
“The addiction epidemic clearly had a massive impact on my personal life, as I witnessed first hand what it can do to a family. And it also had a massive impact on my professional life, as it completely changed the landscape of emergency medicine. Of all the medical specialties, we are in the trenches with this epidemic more than all others,” he said.
He also created the nonprofit The Opiate Reform Initiative, and is regularly speaking at other summits and events in the area, including Hampton's upcoming summit.
“The Hampton Partnership is unique in that so many people are coming together with such frequency, and from the beginning we all decided that we wanted to have this be a repeating, evolving, community-based event, that can grow with the guidance and participation of various community groups and residents,” he said..
The summit is made up of the school district, Hampton Township, the FBI's Hope Initiative, local ministerium and medical professionals from UPMC and Allegheny Health Network.
Along with Brophy, there will be a soon-to-be-announced second keynote speaker, according to Shari Berg, public relations consultant for HTSD. Also, breakout sessions will feature Paul Higginbotham, Allegheny Health Network director of Retail Pharmacy Operations; Russ Schoeber, a former athlete in recovery; and Emily Lyons, “Hidden in Plain Sight” Community Organization.
The Allegheny County Sheriff's Office will be on site to collect prescription pain meds that are expired or no longer needed, Berg said.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.