A Roosevelt University pharmacy student and leader of a student organization dedicated to preventing misuse of prescription medications has won a 2019 U.S. Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award.
Refaela Beqi, 24, now in her final year as a doctoral student in Roosevelt's three-year College of Pharmacy program, received the competitive award this month in recognition of her efforts to provide education on dangers and signs of substance abuse -- which has been a chief goal of the nation's Surgeon General and U.S. Department of Public Health Service.
"As a pharmacy student, I have a personal interest in medication safety," said Beqi, a native of Detroit, Michigan, and currently a Glendale Heights resident.
"But at a time when opioid abuse and addiction are raging in this country, I started to realize that more than just medical professionals are affected by this epidemic problem. The future of families, their loved ones and entire communities are at stake here," said Beqi.
The award-winning student developed an education training program that touches on what it means to misuse medications. This includes taking meds that are not one's own and using them in unintended and non-prescribed ways.
In addition, the program covers the U.S. Surgeon General's goal for eliminating the nation's opioid epidemic; mental health issues related to substance abuse; potential pitfalls of tobacco and marijuana use; and possible resources for addiction help, including anonymous hotlines, addiction programs, and a Generation Rx website where addicts and family members can go for help.
"Students need to understand and know how to deal with substance abuse issues before they become a tragedy, which is why I decided to initiate this program," said Beqi.
Approximately three presentations and several activities led by Baqi occurred at Roosevelt's Chicago and Schaumburg campuses, including in the university's residence hall, where resident assistants -- frequently the first line of support for students with substance abuse problems -- received training.
"Refaela (Beqi) left no stone unturned during a critical campaign that not only united Roosevelt's Schaumburg and Chicago campuses in purpose, but also brought together many in the suburbs," said Cara Brock, assistant professor of clinical sciences at COP who nominated Beqi for the award.
Chair of COP's Generation Rx through the student chapter affiliated with the American Pharmacist's Association, Beqi and peers reached hundreds of people during the initiative, which also included many off-campus events.
Of note, Beqi and COP student volunteers participated in an outdoor park event in Rosemont and in Medication Take Back Days in suburban Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Westmont and Westchester.
At these events, hosted in part by local Mariano's pharmacies, COP students collected and delivered to local police departments expired medications and many dangerous drugs, including opioids that were no longer in use.
The entire initiative received recognition and accolades from the U.S. Public Health Service.
"The national recognition of the Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Award is a significant achievement for Refaela and an honor for our college. The program that Ms. Beqi led demonstrates her commitment to serving fellow Roosevelt students and the community at large, and is deserving of this prestigious award. Her efforts serve as a positive example for our entire college," said Melissa Hogan, dean of COP.
The project has been so impactful that COP's next Generation Rx student group, led by second-year pharmacy student Jaskarn "Jay" Bawa, will continue to carry Beqi's torch, delivering even more information about substance abuse to the public during 2019-20.
"She (Beqi) has paved the path for COP to further branch out with information about the importance of properly using medications, as well as what to look for and do in the event abuse is taking place," said Bawa.
During the coming fall term, students affiliated with COP's Generation Rx organization plan to make presentations at Schaumburg's village hall, the Schaumburg Public Library, before Schaumburg's Board of Health and at Roosevelt's residence hall in Chicago, he said.
"We will be inviting the public to come and learn more. It's an education all of us need, and that we will continue to provide thanks to the foresight of Refaela (Beqi)," said Bawa.
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