Skip to main content


Encouraging a Commitment to Research: Helping Students Understand the Opioid and METH Epidemics Across Disciplines

Sep 29, 2020 09:21AM ● By Med Magazine

With every crisis, comes an opportunity for reassessment where one can evaluate current process and outcomes and strategize for improvements.  Here at the University of South Dakota (USD), we host an annual IdeaFest to promote student-led research across the campus community.  This year’s occasion warranted some changes as a result of the COVID-19 global health crisis.  Instead of cancelling, we integrated a remote version of the event, and what a success!  The strategy was successful largely because everyone had a significant role, understood their contribution was essential, and worked toward a specific aim.  We would like to use this experience to reach a larger number of interested students. 


Usually in post-secondary education, STEM-oriented fields are  more research active than others. We believe that persuading students to consider how their specific majors can contribute to public health crises such as the opioid and METH epidemics is a starting point to encouraging a commitment to research. This can be a motivator for students to first understand the impact of substance abuse and addiction issues; as well as a motivator for the actions they can take in their respective industries.  


In medical and health science majors, we teach our students the signs and symptoms of substance use disorders and interventions to aid those suffering from the disorders.  Although diagnosis and referrals to substance treatment programs are important, a team-based approach is essential for these patients to heal.  Research efforts have solidified the need for team-based approaches to aid persons in recovery with  finding gainful employment, safe housing, and other assistance that align with continued positive outcomes for  suffering from these disorders. 


We present the following plan of action to connect the campus community in encouraging undergraduate interest in research. Research collaborations should be FOCUSED to:

  • Fill a void in the Literature 

  • Offer new perspectives that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion

  • Connect individuals across industries  

  • Utilize frameworks and theories across disciplines 

  • Satisfy a need for audience-appropriate material comprehension 

  • Explore impact on economic and social issues     

  • Design projects that encourage collaboration  

Collaborative efforts can demonstrate the value that different majors can have on addressing public health problems and their impacts.  Our goal is to demonstrate that students across campus in the various majors are poised to make strides in reducing the impact of  substance abuse problems. 

Business school programs students can examine the economic correlations of opioid and METH misuse.  Health Services Administration majors can evaluate costs, planning, and operational efficiency among ED utilization.  Humanities and social work students can develop community support systems for regions experiencing an increase in prescription misuse across sociodemographic status. For instance, a higher prevalence of utilization aligns to specific unmet need, specific conditions, provider type, ethnic group, geographic location, associated crimes, ED use, or insurance type and status. Additionally, bringing  awareness  to economic and social impacts such as treatment vs. incarceration can support legislation..  

An effort such as this makes for a more data savvy undergraduate community of students who understand the basic principles of how to demonstrate the meaning of data while seeking multifaceted solutions for those suffering from substance use disorders.

 Lisa McFadden, PhD

Assistant Professor

Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences

Sanford School of Medicine


Jewel Goodman Shepherd, PhD

Program Director, Master of Business Administration (MBA) 

Assistant Professor of Health Services Administration

Beacom School of Business

 Brian D. Burrell, PhD

Professor of Neuroscience

Co-Director, USD Neuroscience, Nanotechnology & Networks Program (USD-N3)

Associate Director, Center for Brain & Behavior Research (CBBRe)

Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences

Sanford School of Medicine