Continuum of caring
Based at Ohio State, this national center is leading the conversation on new approaches to the problem of alcohol and drug misuse.
Imagine a smart phone app that dispatches an Uber car to an intoxicated student before he gets behind the wheel.
Or an online screening tool that quickly determines a student’s risk for alcohol or drug misuse, much like a blood pressure check can help detect heart disease.
Or a national academic center that offers colleges the tools and resources they need to achieve a measurable reduction in alcohol and drug misuse on American campuses and promote recovery.
It’s all being done at the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery operated by Ohio State. The center was established in 2014 with assistance from a three-year, $2 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
“It is the first national effort to focus on the whole continuum — from prevention through recovery — at the college level,” said John Clapp ’95 PhD, director of the center and associate dean in the College of Social Work. “Up to now, the issue of drug and alcohol misuse hasn’t been addressed by a diverse group of researchers. It’s been left to public health or social work.
“What makes Ohio State unique is that we are working with other collaborators not so likely to help develop some of these tools,” he said. “That way, we can leverage both the expertise at Ohio State and what’s cutting edge in technology to move the needle on this issue.”
The center is a partnership of Ohio State’s College of Social Work, College of Pharmacy and Office of Student Life. Experts in other disciplines — such as engineering, geography and computer science — are working with the center, and Clapp expects more collaborators in the future.
As national statistics illustrate, substance misuse remains a serious problem for universities across the country:
More than 1,800 students die of alcohol-related causes every year, about 700,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking, and nearly 100,000 become victims of alcohol-influenced sexual assaults, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The institute reports two out of every five college students are binge drinkers, consuming five or more drinks in a row.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on average, the misuse of prescription drugs starts about age 21.
Experts on board
Perhaps no academic team in the country is better equipped to deal with these realities than Ohio State’s — because of the expertise of those involved and the array of disciplines the university can bring to bear on the issue.
Clapp is the former director of a similarly focused national center that dissolved in 2012 after a loss of federal funding. When he joined the College of Social Work as associate dean in 2013, he was approached by two colleagues: Ken Hale, a clinical professor in the College of Pharmacy and three-time Ohio State graduate, and Connie Boehm, director of the Student Wellness Center. Both are national leaders in drug and alcohol prevention and education.
They convinced Clapp to restart the center at Ohio State and committed to help. Joining the A-team was Sarah Nerad ’15 MPA, then a graduate student who wanted to launch a collegiate recovery program here.
Their work soon came to the attention of the Hilton Foundation, which works with medical and professional associations, educators and researchers to reduce substance misuse through early intervention and screening. Most of its outreach targets high school students. Expanding to the college level would take the right relationship.
When Hilton Foundation senior program officer Alexa Eggelston looked around, all roads led to Ohio State. She said the foundation was impressed by the center’s expertise and its comprehensive approach that included programs for prevention, early intervention and support of young people in recovery.
“It’s exciting to partner with Ohio State to fill the void at the collegiate level,” she said. “We intend to create a network of colleges that are advancing progressive and proactive public health strategies to address substance use and addiction.”
Many facets to the work
Technology innovations include ScreenU, a software program that simplifies the process of screening for alcohol and drug misuse or risk and provides a brief intervention as well as referral to treatment.
“ScreenU is an online screening that only takes five to seven minutes,” Clapp said. “Students are asked a series of questions to assess their risks for drug and alcohol misuse. They receive feedback and, if necessary, referral to treatment.”
The web-based program can be implemented with college students independently or in partnership with a campus professional. The center tested ScreenU at Ohio State and six other Ohio colleges, then rolled it out nationally in August.
Ideally, Clapp hopes colleges will require students to use ScreenU as part of registration, orientation or some other touch point. “It’s like having your blood pressure taken once or twice a year,” he said. Results would be confidential.
And about that Uber car. Clapp is working with Ohio State’s College of Engineering to develop a smart phone app that would derail problems associated with heavy drinking.
Here’s how the app would work. First, it would use GPS data from the student’s phone to determine his location. Then it would monitor the student’s blood alcohol levels through a wristband sensor similar to a Fitbit. (To test this, Clapp gathered data from students participating in a pub crawl who agreed to wear sensors). Finally, the app would alert the student when he is becoming intoxicated and could order an Uber or text his friends for a ride.
Clapp also is working with Ohio State geography professors to map locations where problems associated with drug and alcohol misuse have occurred. For instance, if police were called to a party at an apartment complex, the center could send peer educators the next day to meet with students there in the hopes of preventing future incidents.
The center also hosts a national conference at Ohio State each year and provides prevention and recovery resources for campuses, students and families on its website (hecaod.osu.edu). Included are fact sheets, the latest research and access to webinars, podcasts and iTunes courses.
The center’s website also links to GenerationRx.org, which contains content developed by faculty and students in the College of Pharmacy in partnership with Cardinal Health Foundation. The Generation Rx Initiative, a prescription drug education program for pharmacy students, became so successful that Cardinal Health provided funding for its expansion. And now, with the launch of the national center here, Hale has been able to reach even more people.
“The misuse of prescription drugs is a serious issue on campuses, particularly with regard to stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin,” said Hale ’76, ’87 MA, ’95 PhD. “Students think these drugs are study aids, but research shows they often have the opposite effect, and those who misuse them typically exhibit poorer academic performance.”
With support from the center, Hale has developed a curriculum to train peer educators about prescription drug misuse and its prevention.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the strongest influence on college students is their peers,” he said. “If we can get peer educators to meet students where they are, that is the most powerful way to do it.”
A peer educator training curriculum has been piloted at Ohio State and will be offered to campuses across the country soon.
Even when colleges are trying hard to address challenges related to drugs and alcohol, the lack of funding and staff can hamper efforts.
“Often people in prevention don’t stay in the field long, and sometimes the knowledge, experience and tools aren’t passed down,” said Boehm, a leader in the wellness field for
30 years. “The technical assistance piece we can offer is huge. We can provide training and assistance over the phone, Skype or in person. And they have access to our webinars and website.”
To draw on the expertise of other universities, Boehm is lining up center affiliates around the country. So far, there are 10 affiliates, and their members share research, write blog posts, offer webinars and make presentations.
One affiliate is the University at Albany, part of the State University of New York system. Psychologist Dolores Cimini, assistant director for prevention and program management there, also was involved with the federal center that closed in 2009.
With the help of donors such as Lifestyle Communities, Macy’s, area businesses and individuals, the house features new furnishings, floors, TVs and an updated kitchen.
“I want to reiterate how vital and important the new higher education center is on a national scale,” Cimini said. “We really need the center to support us as a prevention profession in saving the lives of our students.”
Clapp is firm in his belief that the center’s approaches to research and education stand the best chance of reducing drug and alcohol problems on American campuses.
“We are taking scientific literature and pushing it out into the real world,” he said. “The biggest change in 20 years is that we now know what works: Comprehensive approaches that include public policy, law enforcement and health care. Ongoing screening and monitoring of problems. Looking for new and emerging technologies. Regulating bars and alcohol policy at the local level. And providing healthy alternatives for people in recovery.”
Help with that first stepRaylin Smith ’14 arrived at Ohio State in January 2013 determined to start a new life. The film studies major dreamed of making movies. It all seemed within reach, except for one thing: She was having trouble getting control of her drinking.
Recovery takes a communityThey say “everything’s bigger in Texas,” and the efforts of Houston native Sarah Nerad certainly support that theory.
To assistTo help ensure programs of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery can continue after 2017, when the Hilton Foundation grant is scheduled to end, visit give.osu.edu/HECAOD.
To support the Collegiate Recovery Community with scholarships and other needs, visit go.osu.edu/CRCfunding.