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Pharmacy Professor Teaches Teens Safe Medication Use

October 26, 2017

Eighth and twelfth grade students at East Rochester High School had a new teacher this week who tackled the timely issue surrounding over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and teens.

Dr. Jack Brown speaks to students in a health class at East Rochester Junior/Senior High School.

Dr. Jack Brown speaks to students in a health class at East Rochester Junior/Senior High School.

Dr. Matthew Zak, assistant director of experiential education at the Wegmans School of Pharmacy, taught health classes for the students, talking about safe medication practices as part of the School’s National Pharmacy Week observance. The outreach effort came on the heels of a study Zak conducted last year to assess the knowledge level of high school students regarding over-the-counter medications.

What he found was startling.

“We saw that these students knew very little about the medications they readily have access to and oftentimes self-medicate with,” he said. “Just because a medication is over-the-counter, they assume it’s completely safe, which isn’t the case.”

Zak’s findings prompted him to look for ways to close the knowledge gap among the adolescent population, so he connected with health teachers at East Rochester High School. The partnership led to the week-long teaching opportunity for Zak, where he discussed basic pharmacological principals, and provided information on over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as dangers of illicit drug use. For several classes, Zak was also joined by Dr. Jack Brown, associate professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administration.

For health teacher Nicole Caruso, the partnership with the School of Pharmacy aligned well with her department’s goal of educating students about the dangers of misusing and abusing OTC medication, particularly given the nation-wide opioid crisis.

“We want students to understand, especially our student athletes, that it is dangerous mixing and over-using pain medication,” she explained. “We, as teachers, believe that it is crucial to understand everything about what we are putting into our bodies, legal or illegal, to ensure optimal wellness.”

Caruso added that having pharmacy professionals in the classroom was an invaluable teaching opportunity.

“It’s important [for students] to learn about the dangers of drug use from as many sources as possible. All it takes is one person to get through to a student. It might be a teacher for some, but for others it might be a friend, or a parent, or maybe a professional such as a pharmacist,” she said. “In regards to OTCs and prescription drugs, pharmacists are the most qualified to explain exactly what the drug's intended use is and the various side effects and potential dangers associated with it.”