Butler Tech Bioscience seniors find their passion educating others on the heroin epidemic

Students who created anti-heroin education campaign

Reject! Don’t inject.

That’s the message four Butler Tech Bioscience seniors are trying to get out.

The effort initially began as Ryan DeNoma (Colerain), Micolas Grzanke (Colerain), Thomas Jackson (Lakota West), and Connor Oligee (Madison) were searching for a topic to present for the local Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) competition; however, after learning more about the heroin epidemic in Ohio and Northern Kentucky, their efforts turned to more of a Call to Action and passion, rather than just a competition topic.

“When we chose this topic, it was very relevant in the news,” said Thomas. “We had found out that Cincinnati is Ground Zero for heroin, and Cincinnati ranks number one in the state and country for heroin usage.”

A lot of the guys’ information and statistics were gathered straight from the Cincinnati Police Department.

“Also, we attended a leadership conference with Bracken County Schools in Northern Kentucky where heroin is very prevalent, and they don’t have the resources to help,” said Connor.

“We decided children would be our best target, because once a person tries heroin, they are hooked,” said Ryan. “So if we can reach kids before they start, or before they try heroin, there’s a better chance we can make a difference.”

Micolas is very passionate about the topic, because he has first-hand knowledge about how heroin destroys lives.

“I have a close family member who has struggled with heroin,” he said. “Like others, the addiction starts with prescription pain killers and when those run out, people turn to heroin, because it’s accessible and cheap.”

The guys created a full PowerPoint presentation in which they explain addiction and the consequences of the brain on heroin.

They explain it in these words: “Once the drug hits the brain, it is transformed into morphine and binds with the opioid receptors. The user feels a euphoria “rush”. The rush has a warm flush of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs. The user will feel tired for the next 4 to 6 hours.”

As their photos show, the brain loses activity. In terms of the damage to the brain caused by heroin, Connor explains the science, “Opioid receptors spread endorphins through the brain, the opioid receptors become damaged, and sometimes users can even show signs of Alzheimer’s, according to studies done by the University of Edinburgh.”

And it’s not just the brain that can become damaged due to heroin.

“It destroys your kidneys,” said Thomas. “The kidneys fail then people need a transplant or dialysis.”

As part of the presentation, a fake arm with heroin tracks is shown. They hoped to make their message more tangible by explaining how heroin is injected anywhere the user can find a vein.

“Usually when the police are called out for a heroin case, they don’t just find one person unconscious, it’s usually a group,” said Micolas.

With the prevalence of heroin in Cincinnati and surrounding areas, they wanted to know exactly where it’s coming from and how. What they learned first is that Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medication, often used for anesthesia, is synthesized in China on the black market. Then, the Fentanyl is shipped to Mexico, mixed with heroin to make it more addictive, and lastly sent through the border to the Midwest where is arrives soon to Cincinnati.

“Unfortunately, it’s always one step ahead of law enforcement, which is sad,” said Ryan. “That’s why we wanted to take this epidemic to the public and try to do something to make a difference.”

The four are certainly doing that. They have already presented to several different school groups, a few include: 7th and 8th graders at Edgewood, Junior and Senior Criminal Justice students at Butler Tech Colerain, and 7th and 8th grade students at a STEM conference.

They have other school groups lined up to present to, and they plan to volunteer at the Hope House in Hamilton or Middletown.

“We are really looking forward to talking with more groups and learning more,” said Ryan.

“The more we go out and talk with students, we actually learn from them, because most of them know someone or have been directly affected by heroin,” said Connor.

The guys will take their presentation and compete again, for HOSA, in late February, but for them, it’s not even about the competition anymore. As their last PowerPoint slide reads: Be the Difference… Stop Heroin.

It’s safe to say, they are doing just that.