Awareness of opioid epidemic

Opioid Epidemic Assignment
Objective: Increase undergraduate awareness of opioid epidemic whilst increasing exposure to reading, evaluating, and summarizing scientific research articles.

The last decade has seen a disturbingly large increase in deaths due to opioid abuse. The following assignment is intended to give you all a brief exposure into this epidemic while making you more familiar with reading, evaluating, and being able to discuss behavioral neuroscience research. This is assignment will have two main components:

  1. Background Readings (20 points)
    The two readings below are meant to provide you with a different context of the problem. The first details some general facts and real-world applications of what is happening. The second is an older paper but does a good job of detailing the biological mechanisms of action. You should write a short, concise summary for each (minimum 2 paragraphs). The second paper is longer and more detailed, therefore the summary for the second paper should be longer and more detailed than the first paper. As such, 5/20 points for the first and 15/20 for the second.

The questions below are merely to help guide your summary! You need not answer all the questions, just be sure to provide an adequate summary using your own words.
The purpose of these readings is to provide context. Thus, an appropriate summary will show me that you have 1) read the paper and 2) understand the key points presented in each

• 5-Points:
Josh Katz- NY Times “Short Answers to Hard Questions About the Opioid Crisis” August 10, 2017. Easy to read article that presents some general facts.
 Summarize 5 key facts presented in this article
 What is connection between opioid drugs like OxyContin and heroin?
 What are ‘pill mills’?
 What is fentanyl and what is its relation to the current epidemic?
 Why not just stop prescribing opioid drugs?

• 15-points: Given the detail provided, it is unlikely you will summarize ALL parts of this paper. Rather, read through it once highlighting key points, then go through a second time and pull out the details you find most important and/or interesting.
White and Irvine (1999) Mechanisms of Fatal Opioid Overdose, Addiction, 94(7), 961-972. Reviews the mechanism of overdose death and related issues.
 What regions in the medulla are important for respiration?
 What peripheral inputs are important for respiration?
 What are the three opioid receptors and what are the main endogenous ligands that bind to each?
 Which of the receptors above is most relevant to exogenous opioids?
 Does heroin influence opioid receptors? If not, what does? How does this relate to bioavailability? What is the connection between heroin and morphine?
 What factors may contribute to differences in how individuals respond to the same amount of heroin?
 Given that repeated opiate use results in tolerance, why might long-term users still be at a significant risk for respiratory depression?
 Why and how might long term use of naloxone or naltrexone result in supersensitivity to opiates?

  1. Research Article Review (30 points) 1-2pages
    To increase your exposure to reading, evaluating, and summarizing scientific research articles, you will read a study conducted on mice and the role of mu-opioid receptor genetics.

As with any summary of a research article, you should, in your own words, clearly demonstrate that you understand the key points from each of the key sections within the paper (Introduction, Materials/Methods, Results, and Discussion); I advise you to separate your summary into distinct sections corresponding to each.
• Zhang, Picetti, Butelman, Ho, Blendy, and Kreek (2015). “Mouse Model of the OPRM1(A118G) Polymorphism: Differential Heroin Self-Administration Behavior Compared with Wild-Type Mice”, Neuropsychopharmacology (40), 1091-1100.

Note: the Materials/Methods and Results will likely confuse you on your first pass. You should expect this, so do not immediately freak out! Finish reading the entire paper, then re-read these difficult sections now that you have the ‘big picture’.
For the summary, I do not expect overly-specific details for these two sections; rather, summarize the key points from these sections ‘as if you are explaining it to one of your fellow college-educated peers’. That is, someone who has not read the paper should be able to, after reading your summary, understand how the methods used relate back to the main hypotheses/predictions and how the results fit into those hypotheses/predictions.

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism:
Though you may discuss the issue/assignment with your peers, everyone should submit their own written work and not coordinate any of their writing nor answers. Assignments will be checked for plagiarism so be sure to properly paraphrase the articles (i.e. use your own words, do not copy/paste).
If you are concerned about plagiarism, your ability to write cohesively, or any related problems associated with writing and/or academic dishonesty, then check out the Academic Integrity module on Canvas, speak with me, and consult with UNL’s Writing Center for more personalized feedback.

Supplementary Readings & Resources (though there are many available)
• Benjamin Racklin-NY Times “A Small-Town PoliceOfficer’s War on Drugs”
• Josh Katz-The Upshot “The First Count of Fentanyl Deaths in 2016: Up 540% in Three Years”: short read, provide some quick statistics on drug related deaths
• Sam Quinones (2016) “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic”

We can talk all we want about the problem……but meanwhile people are dying. What do we need to understand in order to implement changes that can help solve this epidemic? What policies need to be enacted?
Below are several discussions on this issue from varying political standpoints to get you started, though many more are ‘out there’.
• Vox’s The Weeds podcast “Understanding the opioid epidemic” liberal-lean
• CATO Institute’s Daily Podcast “How States Should Respond to Opioid Crisis” libertarian-lean

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