Gary Martin: NOPE Task Force Brings Anti-Drug Message To Colleges

Not long after Narcotic Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force was created in 2002, we decided to bring our anti-drug messages to college campuses.

The reason was simple.

Both the national data (ACHA Surveys) and our anecdotal experience in partnering with law enforcement and other agencies indicated that college students were at high risk for overdose death.

We were aware that college students were misusing prescription drugs, but most concerning was the number of students who were hospitalized for combining these drugs with alcohol— which created particularly dangerous situations.

Often, as a result of students’ privacy concerns, the students’ parents were not made aware of these near-death experiences. As a result, NOPE decided to tackle the problem by raising awareness within the college population directly.  We set out to present at colleges across Florida and beyond. We needed to bring our messages to the students on their campuses and on their terms.

Our first presentation was in 2007 at Lynn University in Boca Raton during National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week (NCAAW). To date, we have done presentations at nearly 15 colleges, including Florida Atlantic University, Barry University, Florida Gulf Coast University, and University of North Florida.

We also have presented at American College Health Association’s (ACHA) Annual National Conference in Philadelphia, the Generation Rx University Conference at The Ohio State University, and National Association of Behavioral Intervention Team (NABITA) National Conference in Naples.

The life-threatening overdose incidents at colleges were the impetus for nationwide College Amnesty policies and eventually the 911 Good Samaritan law in Florida and other states.

Over the years, our presentations at colleges have been mostly well-received. We work hard to steer away scare tactics in favor of providing straight-forward, data-driven messages and real life cases/circumstances without judgment.  We strive to provide answers to tough questions such as the following (see the answers here):

  • How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?
  • How do I talk to my parents about getting help? What should I say?
  • Isn’t becoming addicted to a drug just a character flaw?
  • Shouldn’t treatment for drug addiction be a one-shot deal?
  • If drug addiction is a disease, is there a cure?

At our presentations, students often open up deeply about their friends’, their family members’, or their own experiences with drugs. When that happens, we offer them information and support to get the help they need.

Still, getting students to attend our presentations is challenging. As a result, at schools like Lynn University, trained students have delivered similar messages to their peers.

While prescription drug misuse and overdose deaths remain a national health and safety issue, we’ve made tremendous in-roads at educating thousands of college students about the dangers of drugs. NOPE will continue delivering our messages to college students for as long as the disease of addiction remains a problem in the communities we serve.

image_thumb_2xGary Martin is Vice President of NOPE Task Force and Dean of Students at Lynn University. 

Amelia Arria: Staying active and engaged in classroom vital to success in college

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

As students arrive back on campus, students are busy organizing their schedules, managing any changes to their housing situations, and having meetings with advisers. Winter break is, for most, a great time to relax with family and friends. Some students might have traveled; others might have worked to make some extra money. But one thing is for sure – starting a new year is the best time to make a fresh start – a time to reflect on how you did things last semester, and think about how you could do it differently this semester. Think about it as a “re-boot” to work better and more efficiently.

Our research during the last decade has taught us a lot about college students. Based on our findings in the College Life Study, here are a few tips to consider. We find that the percentage of classes skipped is highly predictive of grade point average in college. Perhaps even more important than the number of hours you study outside of class. I hear a lot of students say that they go to class to make sure they know what they need to study later when they are by themselves or in their study group. What they fail to recognize is that the most important learning is going on right there in the classroom. In order for the material in class to seep into your brain, you’ll not only need to just show up, but you’ll have to be engaged in class. And that requires that you get enough sleep, and that you keep up with the assigned readings little by little.

There’s a message here for faculty too – as a new member of the teaching faculty, I’m very interested in learning how I can make classes more engaging and more interactive to make sure that learning during class is maximized. Reaching out to students who chronically miss class might be a good strategy too, rather than waiting until the end of the semester to discuss the possibility of a failing grade.

And while a lot of things affect your academic performance, there is no doubt that being hung over from a night of heavy drinking or using other drugs can undermine your ability to learn and remember things. In their fourth year of college, when students are asked about significant barriers to their success, excessive partying ranks high on their list. And although some students might try to compensate by taking someone else’s prescription stimulants to help them study for an exam or complete an assignment, our research shows that this is a not an effective shortcut. In fact, those students tend to earn significantly lower grades compared to students who choose not to take drugs unless they are prescribed for them. And if you think you are the only one choosing not to partake, we’re happy to set you straight: most students are not using other people’s prescription drugs.

So here’s to a new year – and a new and improved outlook on managing all the responsibilities and challenges of life as a college student, and reaping the rewards!

Amelia Arria, Ph.D. is Director of the Center of Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and an associate professor with the Department of Behavioral and Community Health. She is principal investigator of the College Life Study, a study of college students’ health-risk behaviors.