a table of bagged fentanyl
Kris Grogan/Wikimedia Commons
A table full of fentanyl and other designer drugs seized by CBP sit on display at the International Mail Facility in Chicago, Illinois, Nov. 28, 2017. Wolf Pack Community Howl discussed the opioid epidemic on Monday, Nov. 4.

The second Wolf Pack Community Howl of the semester was held in the Joe Crowley Student Union ballrooms on Monday, Nov. 4 with a focus on the opioid epidemic in the United States. 

Wolf Pack Community Howls aim to facilitate respectful discourse among students in regards to controversial issues and the various possible responses to them—and in this case, hypothetical responses to the opioid crisis. 

The event began with a short video introduction to the given issue. Before the timer is started, facilitators began moving through the various topics covered in an information packet. This outlined the basic principles of various reactions to the opioid treatment plans, which include punitive measures and potential decriminalization. 

The Center for Disease Control reported every two out of three drug overdoses are due to opioids.The number of deaths from opioids—which range from painkillers prescribed by doctors to street drugs like heroin—increased nearly six times since 1999. 

Prescription rates of opioids by medical professionals remains three times the rate from 1999, despite decreases in prescriptions since 2012. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states painkiller dependency is often correlated with later heroin abuse, an uncommon phenomenon in previous decades. 

Students split off into various table groups, joined by one or two student facilitators who guided the discussion. 

The facilitators functioned as guides through discussions as students proposed their views on the pros and cons of each problem, analyzed what produced the recent spike in opioid addiction and how to rectify it. 

Amanda Mussehl, one of the facilitators, explained the purpose of this format. 

“It’s more or less a dialogue we want to establish, and a panel is just like a Q&A, and we don’t want to just be answering questions, we want our participants to actually think with us and go through the process of why are they thinking about this, why is this their train of thought versus another person’s perspective,” Mussehl said.

Mussehl discussed how facilitators can guide a group along discussions.

“We keep more of a neutral ground within the conversation, and we try to be a devil’s advocate if a group is just agreeing almost immediately, we say ‘well, what if we take a different perspective on this topic’ but from the other side…it’s basically just to keep the conversation going,” Mussehl said.

Armando Ayala, another student facilitator, explained how facilitators prepared for the event:

“We had some studying to do, we did some practices, so I wasn’t as educated with this topic and issue, but during the semester I was able to gain some insight,” Ayala said. “The things we have written on the boards are rules that we’re gonna follow throughout the facilitation, just to keep in mind that this is an open discussion, to not judge one another, and then we will talk about personal stakes once we begin the facilitation.”

Throughout the discussion, student facilitators took notes on these easel boards regarding the major issues discussed and proposed solutions or problems with each. 

This particular event was organized as part of COM 468, a Communications class focused on facilitating difficult discussions.

The Community Howls will resume in the spring, focusing on other pressing issues both on and off-campus, including the national debt and views on immigration. 

Matt Cotter can be reached at tkjohnson@nevada.unr.edu or on Twitter @MattCotter12.