How Do You Tackle the Problem of Substance Abuse?

February 3, 2017

A recent graduate of the Master of Biomedical Sciences program, Zachary Smothers serves as project manager on the Bass Connections team Stemming the Opiate Epidemic through Education and Outreach. He shares his experience and some of the team’s accomplishments to date.

Students interested in getting involved in this research can apply for the 2017-2018 team or a related summer project, Mental Health Interventions by Durham Police.


Bass Connections at its core is a mission by Duke University to overcome the issues that our society faces by encouraging different disciplines to collaborate. This collaboration allows teams to look at problems from several angles and pull from multiple skill sets.

We began where many research projects begin, with data collection. This was not a normal data collection process, though; it was much more than that. Instead of spending long hours in front of a computer searching through articles and databases, we went into the community and directly interacted with the people who experience substance misuse.

This was by far the most exciting and thrilling data collection I ever had the privilege of performing.

Our group learned from medical providers, counselors, treatment facilities, recovering users, community partners and law enforcement officials. This allowed us to get a glimpse into the problems we were trying to tackle and was exhilarating for the entire team. This was by far the most exciting and thrilling data collection I ever had the privilege of performing.

My pleasure with Bass Connections and my role did not end with data collection. Our group called members of congress and lobbied for legislation, we created resource cards for individuals currently misusing substances, we connected with local law enforcement and began efforts to improve relations with the community and finally, we created Naloxone rescue kits to be used in our own state. Our team was directly applying what we had learned, something that is a common theme in Bass Connections.

Our team was directly applying what we had learned, something that is a common theme in Bass Connections.

I found that my role allowed me to utilize my skill set and granted me valuable experience. I learned (and am still learning) how to organize and direct a team’s focus and energy. This includes supporting the team members and providing them the resources they need to succeed. This also means that I have had to learn how to interact with community partners, how to leverage the strengths and weaknesses of team members, and how to judge the value and impact of different ideas being suggested.

For any graduate student, this is valuable experience that can be directly applied to almost any field or profession.

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