Nursing students focus on drug education

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Nursing students focus on drug education

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Senior nursing student Hayley Bertucci explains some of the dangers associated with using bath salts and incense as substitutes for illicit drugs. Listening in are, from left, Estin Field, Brett Dupree, William Resweber, all of the Dunham School in Baton Rouge, and Danielle Hall of Pine High School in Franklinton.

Senior nursing students - Melissa Dawson, Hayley Bertucci, Emma Miller, John Penton, Laura Roeling, Jessica Low, Rebecca Daigle, Chris Prosperie, and Alfredo Gutierrez


Sherri Ellis, nursing instructor



Bath salts and incense traditionally were the ingredients for a soothing evening at home or the spa. In recent months, however, they were being used more as substitutes for illicit drugs like methamphetamine and marijuana.


A group of senior nursing students at Southeastern tackled the issue head on, reaching out to show teens and young adults that the items are really prescriptions for sometimes life-threatening side effects.


Senior Southeastern nursing students who participated
in the bath salts/incense educational effort included, back row, left to right: Melissa Dawson, Instructor Sherri Ellis, Hayley Bertucci, Emma Miller and John Penton; front row, left to right: Laura Roeling, Jessica Low, Rebecca Daigle, Chris Prosperie and Alfredo Gutierrez.

“The goal of our project was to raise awareness about the illicit use of bath salts and synthetic marijuana,” says Melissa Dawson, a senior student nurse and one of the coordinators of the project. “We wanted to educate high school students about identifying these drugs, their health effects, and the legal ramifications.”

Senior nursing students at Southeastern are required to participate in a Capstone Project in which they approach a public health issue and work to educate a specific population. The student nurses distributed handouts and talked one-on-one to high school and middle school students who participated in Rock-n-Roar, an event held every spring at Southeastern in conjunction with the regional literary rally.


“We presented written handouts and had a display at the event that offered information on side effects, names, legal aspect, and identifying information such as photos,” says Dawson. “We were able to reach a large number of teens from 16 different parishes in Louisiana.”


Their presentation included several key points, such as the marketing of these products to young adults and the fact that both products are now illegal and carry harmful side effects. Included among the side effects are seizures, increased blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, severe paranoia, elevated heartbeat, aggression and hallucinations. In addition, the use of bath salts carries long term effects such as kidney failure, loss of function for up to three days days, and drug-induced death or suicide.


Dawson said that already in 2011 the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported over 1,700 cases of poisoning due to synthetic marijuana. Tangipahoa Parish has had nine cases of poisoning due to bath salts, with East Baton Rouge Parish ranking the highest in Louisiana with 20 cases just between January and early February.
“We were surprised at the number of teens who were familiar with the drugs already,” said Dawson. “Many teens knew a substantial amount about the synthetic marijuana and were saying the drugs were easy to attain. Either they or someone they knew had tried synthetic marijuana or bath salts.”


Currently 14 states, including Louisiana, have banned synthetic marijuana, and Louisiana is also one of eight states to ban the sale of the bath salts. The researchers do clarify that the products should not be confused with common bath products.


“The items we’re discussing are not sold in bath or beauty stores,” the students stated.
The project was conducted by Dawson, Hayley Bertucci, Emma Miller, Chris Prosperie, Jessica Low, Laura Roeling, Alfredo Gutierrez, Rebecca Daigle and John Penton. They worked under the guidance of nursing instructor Sherri Ellis.


“We hope those who have used or have thought about using these drugs will make a healthy decision for themselves,” said the researchers. “Abusers hope to experience a high similar to marijuana, but many users ultimately end up in the emergency room.”


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