Public health students host opioid abuse awareness forum

Asia Simone Burns, Editor-in-Chief

Three Samford students took the opportunity to tackle a controversial issue on Feb. 27 when they hosted a forum allowing citizens to discuss the Jefferson County opioid epidemic.

“It was to gather the public and bring them into awareness of the drug overdoses that have been occurring in the city,” Amanda Gillespie, one of the student-hostesses, said. “We wanted to inform them and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns to our panelists.”

Gillespie and fellow students Jordan Wulz and Maitlyn Mullen hosted the forum alongside Alabama State Representative Jack Williams in Samford’s College of Health Sciences building. The forum was originally a part of the students’ capstone project, which focused on health-related legislation and regulations, but quickly became a larger initiative.

“It took a different approach, which was perfectly fine, because we wanted to know how the community felt and how different leaders felt about the subject,” Mullen said.

Mullen said the main concerns voiced in the forum centered around the need for preventative measures, treatment facilities and funding.

“There is only one treatment facility that doesn’t have many beds,” Mullen said, “so either the people who use opioids end up on the street or go to jail. And the prisons are getting too full for that.”

The panel was made up of eight opioid abuse experts, including FBI supervisory special agent Angel Castillo, Jefferson County chief coroner and medical examiner Gregory Davis and Danny Molloy, a program support specialist for the Addiction Prevention Coalition. Mullen estimated that more than 50 people attended.

Gillespie said that the sensitive topic made it especially important to create an environment in which one could engage in a productive conversation.

“This issue involves the community as a whole … and with it being a delicate matter, it is not meant to make people feel bad or isolate people from whomever could be battling with these issues,” she said.
Gillespie said she hopes the forum will become a tradition and will be held at least once a semester in coming years.

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