Research to Reduce Opioid Abuse
Samantha Hano '22
Public health sciences and Psychology, Commonwealth Honors College
“I’ve always had a desire to help people who have challenges and are struggling with life. I believe an individual can make changes that can create a domino effect to improve the lives of the vulnerable and overlooked.”
A courthouse is a nexus of troubled people—many with opioid use disorder. At the Holyoke, Massachusetts, District Court, a new program brings same-day access to medications and other treatment right to the courthouse. When UMass Amherst junior Samantha Hano heard about this program, called HEART, she saw a way to put her two majors—psychology and public health—to work to reduce opioid overdoses.
“This was my dream internship,” she says.
Well aware that opioid use disorder is a massive and complex problem, Samantha was nevertheless confident that her UMass education had given her the tools to contribute to the project. HEART (Holyoke Early Access to Recovery Treatment) was founded in March 2020 by Judge William P. Hadley. UMass Amherst public health interns are assisting in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the program, advised by Associate Professor of Public Health Elizabeth Evans.
During the course of the year, alongside fellow UMass interns Amelia Bailey ’24G and Kene Orakwue ’21, Samantha conducted research, planning, and evaluation of the innovative HEART program. She studied comparable programs in other locations, designed an evaluation plan, solicited feedback on the program’s functionality, adapted the program for remote access due to COVID -19, and created a comprehensive report on the HEART initiative.
Evans calls Samantha instrumental in the program’s implementation. “Her work is an excellent example of student-led research that is community engaged and impactful,” she says.
Collaboration among healthcare providers, the criminal justice system, and more than 10 community- based agencies will be essential to HEART’s success. Samantha and others interviewed key stakeholders for program input, educated court personnel about the program, and created materials to advertise HEART to the community.
When it came time to roll the program out at the Holyoke courthouse and explain HEART to people with substance abuse disorders, Samantha got the frontline experience she craved. “The judge encourages people with substance abuse disorders who come to the court for an arraignment, a hearing, or another reason to walk right down the hall to meet with a UMass intern and then immediately get connected to a recovery coach and clinician,” she explains. “When I spoke with these individuals, any preconceived notions I still held of persons with substance abuse disorder were shattered. It affects all walks of life, all genders, all ages, all ethnicities, all backgrounds. It’s a disease that plagues all individuals.”
Drawing on her education in psychology and her training in motivational interviewing, Samantha used her communication skills to encourage people to make positive change. “I made an intention to always speak in a kind and nonjudgmental tone,” she says.
This summer Samantha will help train a new cohort of HEART interns. She says that her experience with the program has strengthened her desire to work in community health planning or criminal justice reform. She plans to pursue a master’s of public health degree and possibly a doctorate in psychology.
The results of her HEART-related research, she says, “transcended my expectations of where my hard work could lead.”