HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Northern Kentucky University has taken on a leading role in the region’s fight against the heroin crisis. It has hosted forums, speakers and policymakers and has had expert faculty members join in the discussion.
This summer, they will offer a course in addiction studies to help prepare the next group of folks who will be soon be on the front lines of this battle.
The graduate-level class, Social Work 594: Addiction in the Community, will meet biweekly, from 6-9 pm Tuesday and Thursday nights beginning July 11. The course, which will run through Aug. 13, will be taught jointly by Dr. Bonnie Hedrick and Jason Merrick and feature guest speakers who have expertise in various areas of how addiction is affecting the community.
Merrick, who is in recovery himself, also heads the addiction services for the Kenton County Detention Center. He just earned his master’s in social work from NKU this May.
“Jason Merrick’s story is a story of hope for people who think there’s no hope,” said Dr. Cindy Reed, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. “He’s a graduate of our program and we’re phenomenally proud of him, but as someone who is in recovery himself, he can speak from the heart and from his experience. It puts a whole different face on the topic.”
The course is divided into five separate modules that cover the concepts of harm reduction, treatment, prevention, support and advocacy. Merrick and Dr. Hedrick, who also taught the class last summer, will supplement the live speakers with film from last year’s course when applicable.
“Last summer, we had 14 or 15 students. This year, I’m hoping to reach capacity,” Merrick said.
Part of Merrick’s message is that the heroin/opioid crisis reaches everyone.
“I can prove it,” he said. “It’s part of the class, how it affects everyone from the small business owner to the consumer. We as community members need to take some of the responsibility ourselves and change the culture. If we do things together and simultaneously we have a better chance of overturning this issue.”
He said the class will cover hands-on demonstrations of how to administer naloxone, as well as how to properly dispose of possibly infected needles. But a big message that he hopes to convey is support.
“Men and women, young and old, are needing treatment or coming out of treatment or jail, and if they have nowhere to stay it’s easy for them to just fall back into old patterns,” Merrick said. “There are an army of volunteers out there who are willing to help, who know where to get housing and employment. This is the next generation of professionals, they need to know where we’ve gone and where they need to pick up, because we won’t always be here.”
Guest speakers, such as Dr. Lynne Saddler of the Northern Kentucky Department, give students not only a professional perspective, but can possibly provide contacts down the road, or even spark interest in specific areas of the addiction services.
This course is part of the preparation for the Health Innovation Center, scheduled to open in 2018. The idea behind the Health Innovation Center (HIC) is taking a transdisciplinary approach to wellness in order to address health problems in our region. Dr. Reed said at that time, there are plans to offer a minor in addiction sciences, which will also be cross-disciplinary.
“Why are we offering this class now? There’s still so much to be done. We felt very compelled, with the opening of the HIC in 2018 to address the number one health problem in the region, and we saw it as heroin and opioid addiction,” said Dr. Reed. “We have a big focus on removing the stigma so people can get help and so families can get the support they need, too.”
The word that recurred about the class was priority.
“Not only is our college is very committed to these issues, but our whole university is,” Dr. Reed said. “It’s going to take everyone to find solutions to these issues, and right now this is certainly a priority for us.”
“This class is very important to me, I make it a priority,” Merrick said. “I hope I get to continue teaching it.”
Anyone interested in more class details can enroll at nku.edu or email Merrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.