South Asian parents must discuss drug abuse with children: Rutgers professor

Dr. Saira A. Jan, professor of phamacy at Rutgers Univesity Ernesto Mario School of Pharmacy, has developed a toolkit to fight the opioid epidemic, engaging her students in the initiative (Photo: Rutgers University)

A Rutgers professor is leading an initiative to counter the growing epidemic of drug abuse around the country and advises South Asian parents to have frank discussions with their children about the dangers. She and her students have developed the Opioid Abuse Toolkit: Resources for New Jersey Communities, which she told Desi Talk, has gone national.

Professor Saira A. Jan, a Pakistani-American whose parents were originally from India, is the clinical professor of pharmacy at Rutgers’ Ernesto Mario School of Pharmacy. She warns Indian-American and South Asian parents not to assume their kids will stay away from the increasingly potent street drugs and alcohol, easily available to students right from middle and high schools on through college and university.

Having worked closely with crisis groups in New Jersey, as well as observed issues around campuses, Jan says South Asian kids are as prone to trying out street drugs, possibly also because of the high level of pressure to excel exerted by South Asian cultures and families.

“We need to wake up rather than denying, and we need to look out for signs in our children,” Jan said. “Our families are very goal-oriented and there’s a high pressure to achieve. That causes stress and sometimes kids may begin using recreational marijuana for instance, not knowing that the level of THC in today’s varieties have a higher chance of leading to addiction,” Jan said.

Higher levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC in marijuana induce stronger psychological effects, and experts are concerned that more potent and addictive forms of street drugs are available today.

With opioid drug overdoses becoming a growing national health crisis, Jan and her students created the toolkit to help communities across New Jersey combat the deadly problem. This free toolkit includes a step-by-step guide to plan and execute various community initiatives and  resources for those struggling with opioid addiction disorders.

“Usually South Asian families are more restrictive. But when these kids go out to freer environments at college or university, they try out these drugs,” Jan said. Street drugs are laced today to make them more potent. “There’s potent heroine in New Jersey streets which can cause accidental deaths,” Jan said.

“South Asian families and communities need to have open discussions on this. They feel they don’t need to,” Jan said. But telling kids “Don’t do it” is not sufficient. “Have a very scientific approach on the negatives of drugs and alcohol and about how children’s brains are developing even till the age of 25 or after,” she said.

In New Jersey, as the opioid epidemic continues to grow, 1,454 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 16 percent increase from 2014, according to data provided by Rutgers in an April 3 press release.

The toolkit also includes supplemental posters and presentations that are available for download at no cost and can be adapted for any community group’s needs.

The 49-page toolkit has seven sections, which walk users through event-planning basics, community outreach initiatives, drug overdose prevention and resources for dealing with addiction, and outreach at schools for all grade levels.

Jan also leads the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey pharmacy clinical management program as a Clinical Director.  with over 17 years of experience in health care management and research and academics.

Jan has led a successful project on childhood Obesity “Shape it Up” for more than 400 elementary school, according to the press release. She has a Masters in Pharmacology from St John’s University in Queens, N.Y., and doctorate in Pharmacy from Rutgers State University of New Jersey.



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