Dave Ferguson

Dave FergusonEngaging Students in the Community to Address the Complex Issues of Substance Abuse

The elective “Drugs of Abuse” course was first offered by the college a decade ago to offer students a forum to examine the pharmacology, chemistry and user-culture of substance abuse.

According to Professor of Medicinal Chemistry Dave Ferguson, the genesis of the course was a gap in the curriculum when it came to awareness and care for patients with substance abuse problems.

“We knew we couldn’t use a standard format for this course,” said Ferguson. “We don’t preach or judge, and we ensure that students are motivated, engaged and accountable to the community in addressing this difficult problem.”

Student-invited guest speakers bring a unique perspective to the real-life implications of addiction. Active learning is extended through student-selected, diverse projects that emphasize community engagement.

Past projects have ranged from observation in diagnostic laboratories to learn about compliance testing and drug screening, to field trips to other states to observe real-life implications of cannabis legalization or attending drug court and participating in meetings with inmate offenders.

“The profession has been proactive in trying to reduce diversion, pill shopping and changing formulations to address abuse,” said Ferguson. “Pharmacists have also played a critical role in addressing drug diversion. The challenge is that many of those users have turned to street drugs such as we’ve seen with the spike in the abuse of heroin and designer opioids.”

Feedback from students confirms that the course better prepares them to address the ever-changing societal challenge of substance abuse.

“They realize that as future pharmacists they can have an impact,” said Ferguson. “It changes the way they think about people who struggle with the disease of addiction.”