SMCM Alumni Make a Difference During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Olivia Sothoron

As the nation was overtaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) alumni started campaigns and projects to give back to the frontline workers who were putting themselves at risk on a daily basis to fight this deadly and unprecedented virus. During these dark times, SMCM alumni demonstrated their ability to put the needs of others before themselves to help those in need. 

Kathleen Stefanos (‘05) is a trained physician in both pediatrics as well as emergency medicine. One of her main goals aside from treating her patients was to help inform others about the new illness, and she spent much of her time teaching others about the new discoveries which surfaced each day. Her desire to teach others about the Coronavirus inspired her to create an online learning elective for their medical students who were no longer able to gain experience in the hospital due to the pandemic.

The online elective, which was originally created to be a one-time occurrence, was so popular that Stefanos and her coworkers opened up two more week-long courses that filled up quickly. The curriculum will also be offered for students at outside institutions for the Fall 2020 semester. Stefanos explained, “the medical center was seeking ways to teach students without having them see patients, so I spoke to a colleague with an idea and we opened an elective for the students.”

In addition to Stefanos, Lt. Alexander Walls (‘13) has been working with his training group of seven United States Marines to create protective equipment for those on the frontlines. Walls is a member of the 2d Marine Logistics Group (2dMLG) MakerSpace, whose mission is to inform and educate Marines and sailors on how to properly utilize technology that is not taught in formal Marine Corps training, such as 3-D printing, robotics and coding.

Although the pandemic caused the cancellation of all classes in order to slow the spread of the virus, the 3-D printing devices were still used to produce personal protective equipment for marines who were confronting the virus in their daily work. Walls explained that the most rewarding part of the work was “knowing that we were making a difference by providing protection for those that were on the front lines. It was also great to have a case study that could demonstrate the usefulness of the technology and training we were providing.” 

Kate Jakuta (‘07) has been a member of the Latino Racial Justice Circle, a faith-based group out of Baltimore, Maryland that works to provide support for immigrants, since January 2017. In March, when the pandemic was first making a large impact on communities in Maryland and across the nation, the Latino Racial Justice Circle started a GoFundMe “to provide financial assistance to immigrants in the Baltimore area who have lost work due to the COVID-19 crisis and don’t qualify for support from the government, such as unemployment benefits or the stimulus payments.” Originally, the goal was to raise $3,000 and provide financial assistance contributions of $200 to 15 families. As of July 10, the organization has provided 257 financial assistance contributions for a total of $51,400. 

Jakuta mentioned: “Our fundraiser is an act of solidarity and an effort to fight back against this lack of equity. I wouldn’t describe the work as rewarding. It is challenging and heartbreaking to receive so many requests from community members who are going through extremely desperate times, and to know that our financial contribution is just a Band-Aid solution to a much larger problem.”

During this dark time, members of the St. Mary’s community reminded us that it is always possible to shine as a light unto others and to support one another regardless of the circumstances.  

The First Virtual Voices Reading: Workshopping Comic Books with Yona Harvey

By: Clare Kelly 

On September 3, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland community welcomed back Yona Harvey to the first virtual event of the Voices Reading Series, directed by Professor Karen Lorena Anderson, and sponsored by the Arts Alliance, the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee and the English Department. Harvey is a recipient of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award presented by St. Mary’s College of Maryland for her poetry. She is the author of “You Don’t Have To Go Mars for Love,” a collection of poems. In the world of comic books, she and Ta-Nehisi Coates are the co-authors of “Black Panther and the Crew,” published by Marvel Studios.

In her welcoming address to the community, Anderson explained that as the mission of the Voices Reading Series brings together great voices, she wanted to share a voice that “shines a light through the terror” of the past few months. Anderson noted that Harvey came to mind as a “fierce” and “compassionate” voice to invite “not once but twice.” Harvey will be returning to the St. Mary’s community in two weeks’ time for a reading of her poetry; whereas on this day she came as a comic book writer and to lead a workshop on this topic. Professor Anderson honored Harvey’s work as a comic book writer that shows a “different way of finding liberation.” 

At the beginning of the workshop, Harvey asked all attendees “to breathe and accumulate and to be grateful and excited” in preparation for sharing this place. The goals she hoped to achieve in her workshop included “broaden[ing] the perspective of what comics can do or be,” inviting the attendees to write themselves into the comic and to share the words of great female comic writers. Harvey introduced the work of a comic artist, Linda Berry, that inspired her. Berry held a philosophy that “anyone can draw, anyone can try this;” as Harvey commented, she “elevated my game as a teacher.” She valued Berry’s “transparency about her process” because she finds that “comics are collaborative.” Throughout the exercises, Harvey emphasized the power of collaboration, and how people tend to see writing as an isolated place, but it’s really a collaborative workshop. 

Harvey asked all the attendees to take part in an activity that had many parts to it. First, she asked everyone to draw five different things. She allocated one minute to draw each item without looking. The images she instructed are bacon and eggs, a mermaid, a giraffe with spots, the Statue of Liberty and a human skeleton. After this, she instructed the group to write a run-on sentence for each of the following topics. Harvey gave two minutes for this activity. The different topics included chewing, salt, circles, and freedom. After instructing all the attendees through these exercises; she exclaimed that the participants were simply two minutes away from drafting their first comic. She instructed them to look through their run-on sentences and underline anything that stands out to them. With these bits of writing, she told attendees to write the underlined words with the pictures that they drew in activity one. As if she was reading the minds of attendees, Harvey explained that if the comic and the writing contrast that gives color to the comic. “It would be boring if the text matches the pictures.” 

Harvey ended the workshop by presenting the styles of different artists. Two of these artists included Rina Ayuyang and Julie Delport. Ayuyang used “colored pencils to create many sketched images, [in comparison to] hard images like Marvel.” Deport, on the other hand, valued minimalist, but also worked with colored pencils. Harvey shared these artists to encourage all to “be open to the different shapes and forms.” She opens doors for all those attending to understand that they are welcomed into the realm of comic writing. 

“I thought it was an amazing workshop that really reminded me that art doesn’t have to be so high stakes! As long as what you create means something to you, it’s art, which is a really nice reminder I think. I’m currently working on an SMP in art and just being able to do really silly and laid back art like this was so relaxing and very welcomed so overall it was just a really fun time,” stated Jasper Lopez ‘21. 

Jazsmin Prince’21 said, “I absolutely loved the workshop that Yona Harvey held for us. This was the first time that I had ever been to a workshop voices reading before. I was super excited when Professor Anderson told us in our Creative writing class that this would be the first one! I really loved the workshop we did. She allowed us to make comics in a fun way and showed us what it was about. I appreciated her coming back to St. Mary’s.” 

In this workshop, Harvey gave the reader, illustrators and writers different perspectives and methods to strengthen and expand their knowledge of the comic book. She used these exercises to break down the walls of comic book drafting to show anyone has the ability to be a comic writer. Now the St. Mary’s Community has not seen the last of Yona Harvey, she will be returning on September 24 to share her voice once again this time through poetry.

An Interview With The Troll That Lives Under The St. John’s Pond Bridge

Written by Kristina Norgard.

Everyone knows the bridge that sits on the side of Route 5 and connects St. John’s Pond to the St. Mary’s River, you know where students can creatively arrange rocks during low tide to a message or phrase or quirky image? Well, no one has ever actually stopped to ask how the troll who lives under that bridge is doing so The Point News stepped in and decided to ask them for an exclusive interview. 

It was a dreary Thursday afternoon, absolutely pouring rain, you couldn’t even see what was five feet ahead of you when we arrived under the bridge. Our galoshes and raincoats were soaked through to the bone but the kind troll let us in under their bridge. She introduced herself as Katharine and said that she had been a resident underneath the St. John’s Bridge for the past 75 years. We were super shocked that it had been that long and immediately wondered if she had any good or crazy stories of the students who had conquered this campus. She said that she had “seen a lot, and sometimes there were things she wished she hadn’t seen, but there were so many good memories of the students that made it all worth it.” 

Katharine showed us around the bridge and told us about how she would “put good luck on students who needed it for passing their classes or tests anytime they walked by the bridge.” She also hinted that she would “put bad luck on students and professors that were especially rude to their peers and colleagues behind their back” when she would overhear them. The Point News would like to make this their official warning to the students and faculty about this new finding on campus. 

Being constantly close to campus, Katharine has seen a lot in not only her life but in her time being a resident under this bridge. She has seen the “aftermaths of many greens parties, failed tests, sunsets, prospective students on tours, sailing and rowing regattas, sunrises, graduations, high and low tides, some crying here and there, and in general the life cycle of the growth and progression of the students who come and go from this institution.” As she expects that she is soon to be nearing the end of her life, she expressed how “grateful she was to be able to watch from afar generations of students learn more than just in the classroom but also in life as well.” 

Katharine is a loving and underappreciated member of this community, and many students have felt the need for her to have more of a presence on campus. Art in Montgomery Hall has been dedicated to her, as well as a shrine in Kent Hall. Some students who have recently found out about this troll (We’re looking at you, class of 2023!) have thought that maybe, just maybe, we should add Katharine, the troll who lives under the St. John’s pond bridge to one of the wonders of St. Mary’s. The controversy here has been if we should either knock off one of the Seven Wonders and replace it with Katharine or if we should have it become the eighth wonder of St. Mary’s. If you have any strong feelings about this, you can contact either the Point News or the class of 2023 representatives.

Disclaimer: This article was published as a part of our April Fools Edition.

“Love Is Blind” Has Everyone Talking

Written by Vera Armstead.

Would you get engaged to someone you have never seen before after only 10 days of dating them between walls? The producers of the Netflix reality series “Love Is Blind” arranged an “experiment” to test if this was possible. 

During the experiment, multiple singles were secluded to a building for 10 days in order to date people from the opposite sex while only hearing their voice. At the end of those ten days, if they made a connection, they would get engaged and would be able to finally meet face to face. After this, they went on a romantic getaway to Cancun, Mexico which led them to move in together. At the end of the six weeks, they decided whether or not they wanted to mate for life at the altar. 

With hosts Vanessa and Nick Lachey, the first season was filmed in 2018. Although it was shot nearly two years ago, the first few episodes were finally released on February 13. The episodes were released in phases to somewhat mirror the structure of other romantic reality TV shows such as “The Bachelor” and “Are You The One” with the 10 episodes stretched out over three weeks. 

“Love Is Blind” was rated as the number one watched show on Netflix for a period of time. The show has become so popular, that even “Saturday Night Live” has made a parody of it. The comedic actors poked fun at how the people seemed to rush into their love stories. One character said, “It’s only been five days, but I’ve found the love of my life.” The skit went on to compare the dating pods to quarantine chambers for the coronavirus. 

Although the premise of “Love Is Blind” is borderline outrageous and unrealistic, it has spurred real lifelong connections. Most of the cast members are still friends, having the common thread of their experience of being secluded in a building for 10 days without access to social media, television, or any contact to the outside world to engage in a love experiment.  

A part of the editing of “Love is Blind” that fell short was how most of the individuals who experienced the blind dating process failed to receive much screen time, if any at all. One person, Rory Newbrough, was only featured counseling Matt Barnett in his troubles with deciding who to propose to. His time dating in the pods was never shown on screen, despite him getting engaged to Danielle Drouin, who was given even less screen time. Cameron Reid, one of the main cast members, mentioned on an Instagram Live video that he wishes the final edit included everyone who was part of the experiment, because they were all part of the experience. 

Additionally, many viewers have taken to social media saying that although they enjoy the series, they wish they gave more screen time to people who were not conventionally attractive. @DaniGetCrunk on Twitter said, “If love is really blind then why aren’t there any fat people on the show.” Although there was a diverse group of people who initially participated in the experiment, the screen time was focused on the people who were thin, toned with muscle and beautiful based on society’s standards. It can be argued that focusing on these types of individuals almost goes against the premise that love is blind and should not be based on physical features. 

Surprisingly, two of the couples that said “I do” during the finale are still together almost two years later. This definitely supports the producers’ hypothesis that love is blind! I anxiously awaited the results of the six couples’ wedding days. I cannot help it; I am a sucker for romance, no matter how dumb it seems. Although there has not been an official statement saying that Netflix will produce a second season of “Love Is Blind,” I am sure it will be announced soon because of its major success.

$40 for One G, What do We Pay for 5G?

Written by Jennifer Jenkins.

Theodora Scarato, the Executive Director for the Environmental Health Trust, came to St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s library on February 24th to discuss the debate over cell phone radiation and the push for 5G networks. The Environmental Health Trust is a nonprofit organization that wants to inform the general public of environmental health risks.

In her lecture, Scarato presented her organization’s work researching and campaigning information on scientific studies, government policies and individuals involved in the movements for cell phones and 5G networks. Scarato claims there are side effects to heavy cell phone use such as headaches, DNA damage, memory problems, damage to reproductive organs and oxidative stress. She also referenced effects like an increased risk of brain tumors and reproductive organ cancers. 

Scarato believes, “Awareness is the first step in fixing the problem.” She wants everyone to be aware of the possible health problems that can come from your environment. We should educate ourselves on our products and should “use the power of our pocketbooks” to influence the markets and therefore make changes in our society. Scarato and the Environmental Health Trust’s opinions on cell phone radiation and the rise of 5G have been mentioned and debated with in articles by Vox and The Scientific American

Scarato’s lecture referenced the paper “Exposure of Insects to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields from 2-120 GHz,” Dr. Henry Lai, Dr. Ronald Melnick and other sources to support her case on health problems from cell phones. Scarato’s sources are only a few in the debate. There are also many sources that oppose her view and claim that there is no significant data that shows direct effects between cell phone usage and human health. For example the paper, “Mobile phone use and incidence of brain tumour histological types, grading or anatomical location: a population-based ecological study” concludes that “there has been no increase in any brain tumour histological type or glioma location that can be attributed to mobile phones” in Australia. The paper shows the results of a study on brain tumor rates during different periods of cell phone use. There are papers supporting both sides of the argument.

At the end of her lecture, Scarato pointed out what she wants the students to remember in three points: a 5G appeal has been signed by over 250 scientists, there is no scientific consensus on this topic, and that people need to look over the research and evidence that’s out there. 

The four major network carriers in the United States— Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile—are currently advertising their 5G networks and technologies. They are introducing the next generation of networks after LTE to the consumer. This new generation aims to give us faster communication, uploads, and downloads. According to CNN, “5G is expected to be nearly 100 times faster than 4G.” This is because of the different frequency airwaves the 5G networks use. This change for faster internet sounds great, but what is the catch?

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 96% of Americans own a cellphone of some sort. 81% of Americans own smartphones and many are using their smartphones as their main gateway to the internet. These statistics shouldn’t be surprising since our phones really are quite convenient. They can play the roles of a radio, personal computer, and television. Our phones help us communicate, create, and gain weight (depending on the app, of course).

We often have our cell phones in our pockets, our hands, and beside our pillows at night. With new phones that use 5G networks, we would be bringing the different frequencies along with cell phone radiation closer to our bodies. The Connecticut Department of Health Environmental & Occupational Health Program addressed possible health concerns over cell phone use by providing users with guidelines on how to limit their exposure from the effects of cell phones. They suggest reducing phone use, keeping it away from the body, and keeping phones on airplane mode when possible.

A Seat at the Table: An Interview with Mckayla Wilkes

Written by Truman Robinson.

Mckayla Wilkes is a democratic candidate running for Congress in Maryland’s 5th voting district this April against Congressman Steny Hoyer. Wilkes is running on a grassroots campaign and is receiving wide appreciation for the positions she runs on. She recommended  some of the things she would like St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) students to know about before they vote in the primaries on April 28. 

Wilkes shared the platforms she supports, along with some of the programs she plans on implementing. Plans like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and Fair Taxes are all on her agenda.  On housing issues, she supports the Homes Guarantee movement, a grassroots movement based on giving affordable housing to everyone. She also is interested in expanding a Section 8 Program, which would increase access to affordable housing for seniors. For gun-control, she has a multifaceted plan that involves establishing a federal trust and universal background checks to diminish violence in our communities. 

As someone who is open about her police record, Wilkes has seen first-hand how the criminal justice system can financially ruin families while the wealthy can get away practically for free. The “Criminal Injustice System,” as she famously puts it, stigmatizes and profits off of the impoverished people and their substance abuse. With her plan, she wants to implement a program that rehabilitates rather than punishes. She would abolish private prisons and end cash bails. With this plan she hopes to begin a change of mentality that destigmatizes our prison system.  

Wilkes addressed Congressman Hoyer as one of the biggest reasons we do not see any of these critical changes. Hoyer has been MD-05’s congressman since 1981 and is running for reelection in 2020. Wilkes points out that Hoyer’s website has no plan for affordable housing or gun control and his major contributors are wealthy fossil fuel companies.

On her Twitter, Wilkes is adamant in her support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president, who shares many of her ideals and progressive movements. When asked  if the results of the caucuses had changed her view she said no, and that Sanders is, like her, for the people. She points out that the other candidates have and will continue to attack Bernie because he challenges the system that the rest of the candidates are funded by. “Money influences people,” she said. Both she and Bernie want to fight for actual people, not billionaires and corporations. “The 1% have had their seat at the table for too long. If they want to help us, have them step down and give us our seats.” 

One of the biggest worries for democratic voters is seeing how separated the democratic candidates and their supporters are on their respective platforms. In response to these concerns she said that first, candidates need to stop sharing false narratives. The Democrats need to be transparent about who is supporting them and why they defend their platforms. As she sees it, the democratic candidates have to ask a question: people or money. She said “Investing in us is not radical. We cannot be afraid to challenge the status quo. We cannot be afraid to try something new. Putting ourselves first should be our top priority.” 

My final question for Wilkes was “What is the most important thing that you would like the students of SMCM to know about you?” Wilkes responded saying that she is a democrat running for the people. In her own words, “I am a regular person, and we deserve so much more. I’m standing on the lines. I want to make sure we all have the same voice and we all have a seat at the table.”

Sunscreen: Protection from the Sun, but not from the Coral Reefs

Written by Tyler Wilson

On Wednesday, February 19th, Dr. Carys Mitchelmore gave a lecture at St. Mary’s College of Maryland on  whether or not sunscreen is killing our coral reefs. Mitchelmore works as a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and is an environmental toxicologist.

Mitchelmore started off by providing some background to the general question she would be addressing. She talked about how coral reefs are a keystone species, essential to their ecosystem’s survival. Then she described how coral reefs are dying off, which can largely be attributed to climate change, with warming oceans and acidification being the main reason for the decline. However, she also mentioned that there are other factors that may be involved, such as chemical contaminants. One of the possible chemical contaminants is sunscreen, which is used in abundant supply on beaches near coral reefs. 

Dr. Mitchelmore then talked about how the marketing of sunscreens has been very misleading. First of all, some sunscreens are labeled as “organic,” because they contain materials such as oxybenzone or “inorganic” because they contain materials such as zinc oxide, but in reality no product is organic. Just because ingredients like oxybenzone are biodegradable does not mean that they are not harmful. Secondly, there have been very few studies on the effect of sunscreen on coral reefs, so one study conducted by Dr. Craig Downs in 2016 is seen as the basis for making policy decisions about sunscreen. The study found that near a coral reef, oxybenzone levels were above the threshold of toxicity. After the study, there was a sign at a beach that said sunscreen with oxybenzone was harmful for coral reefs solely based on Downs’ study. As Mitchelmore explained, one study is never enough to justify major policy decisions. The whole theory behind the scientific method is that studies should be checked by other studies to help the scientific community get a clear picture of the issue at hand. 

Based on the lack of research on the topic, Mitchelmore decided to take matters into her own hands, and went out with a team to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, where she tested the toxicity of 13 UV filters at 19 sites. Some of these sites were more highly populated than others, causing the toxicity of the UV filters to vary spatially, but she was still able to make general conclusions about her data. On average, she found that oxybenzone levels were below the toxicity threshold, but some of the other contaminants examined were toxic to the environment.  Mitchelmore concluded that while the results contradicted Downs’ study, oxybenzone is still something that should be used with caution, and more studies are needed to produce clear results that influence policy. However, there was one ingredient that she said was the most toxic of all: zinc oxide, the “inorganic” ingredient in sunscreen. This exposes the dangers on basing a public statement on little evidence; people going to the beach could have seen the sign about oxybenzone and switched to another sunscreen with zinc oxide, which would have hurt the coral reefs even more. 

SMCM Prepares for the 11th Annual Relay for Life

On Friday, Feb. 28 St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) will host its 11th annual Relay for Life event from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on the recreational courts located in the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center. This event involves walking around a track to raise money for the American Cancer Society in researching cancer treatment as well as providing support for cancer patients and caregivers.

This year, SMCM’s chapter of Relay for Life is co-chaired by Victoria Chang (‘20) and Davita Fennell (‘20), and is advised by Director of Student Support Services, Joanne Goldwater. All members of the Relay for Life executive board have been working tirelessly since Spring 2019 to prepare for the 2020 event. 

Chang has been participating in SMCM’s Relay for Life since her first year at the school. She helps to coordinate the activities and performances at the event, working hard to make sure that all participants have a good time while supporting a great cause. She remarked that their 2020 fundraising goal is to raise $18,000 for the American Cancer Society. 

After registering, participants are asked to fundraise for the cause. The more money a participant raises, the more giveaways they receive. The goal for this year is for all participants to raise at least $100, which will earn them a free t-shirt. Aside from participants, cancer survivors are also greatly welcomed to attend. All survivors will receive a free t-shirt, regardless of how much money they fundraise, as well as be honored at a special dinner along with caregivers.

Participants are also encouraged to join up and create teams. Each team tries to raise the most amount of money through putting on performances and hosting activities throughout the night. For example, the SMCM Women’s Basketball team will be hosting a bake sale as well as a water pong table, where participants can donate to their team to participate in their activities. SMCM Rowing will be hosting a face painting station as well. 

Some other activities include a karaoke station, raffles and a nerf gun activity where participants can “terminate the tumor.” Relay for Life will also feature performances from the SMCM Drum Corps, The Nightingale A cappella, Interchorus and the Hawkettes. The rock wall will also be open and available all night for the participants. The event will also feature “Jail and Bail,” which is an annual event where Public Safety officers are paid by students to have a friend arrested in a jail created for the event. There will also be plenty of variety of foods at the event, including vegan and vegetarian options. 

Cady Gorsak (‘22), Relay for Life Secretary, participated in her first relay event last year and  was inspired to become involved with the SMCM team. As the secretary, Gorsak works to finalize all paperwork for the event and coordinate fundraisers. She also is a member of a sub-committee called Team Retention, which works to recruit campus clubs and sports teams to participate in the event, providing them an opportunity to fundraise for their program as well as for the American Cancer Society. 

Over the years, Chang has formed many memories through her work with the Relay for Life team. She noted, “One year I had my head shaved in front of everyone to raise money for Relay. I had hair down to my side so it was a very interesting experience!” Gorsak remarked that she is most looking forward to the luminaira event, during which luminarias are lit to honor lives touched by cancer. “I love this moment because it reminds me of why I got started with Relay and why Relay is so important to me,” explained Gorsak. She mentioned that “it is really powerful to be surrounded by darkness and silence, but have the room lit up with all the luminarias.” 

To sign up for the Relay for Life event, one can search for SMCM on the Relay for Life website or they can use the link posted on Inside SMCM. Registration is $5 per person and will increase as the event draws nearer. 

Dr. Kelly Dunn in The Opioid Lecture Series

On Friday, February 21, Dr. Kelly Dunn of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine gave a lecture entitled “The Promise of Tramadol as a Medication to Treat Opioid Use Disorder.” Dr. Gina Fernandez of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) Psychology department introduced Dunn as the first speaker of the semester in the SMCM opioid lecture series. Dunn began with an overview of the ongoing opioid epidemic, as well as an explanation of how it became the epidemic it is today before moving into the treatment strategies she is involved in at Johns Hopkins. 

Dunn explained that heroin, a natural derivative of the poppy plant, started out as a treatment for morphine addiction, which was effective in small doses, but became addictive in larger doses and when abused. From this, a desire to develop synthetic opioids arose as pain became a target for doctors to alleviate. Dunn states that this is what has contributed to the longevity and persistence of opioids, and that now, pain is a billion dollar industry. “It is not likely that the medicines [opioids] will go away because it has this huge market behind it,” Dunn noted. Narcotics are the fifth most prescribed form of drug in the United States and “when a medication is widely available, it is widely abused.” Often prescribed for chronic pain, there has been no concrete evidence that opioids and opiates are helpful, but paradoxically can even increase a patient’s sensitivity to pain. 

Looking at how the opioid epidemic has gotten to this level involves considering a multitude of factors. As pain became considered the “fifth vital sign” and doctors placed more stock in pain with the goal of no pain for a patient, patients began receiving more prescription pain medication and opioids more and more frequently. When given more medication than necessary, patients would use more than necessary, and leftover pills had the potential to be abused. These leftover pills are often difficult to get rid of in a safe manner. When flushed down the toilet, there have been fish found with high opioid levels because there is not a system in place to filter the opioids out of the water. As exposure to opioids increases, so does the likelihood of developing an opioid problem. 

According to Dunn, there are three identifiable stages of the opioid epidemic. When heroin became more accessible and pain became considered the fifth vital sign, abuse of prescription opioids increased. As a result of this abuse increase, the producers of OxyContin changed the formula of the drug so that it could not be injected or snorted. Those who were addicted to OxyContin could not get what they needed to suppress withdrawal from it, so many switched to heroin. Because heroin is naturally derived and the poppy plant requires specific climates to grow, heroin was in short supply. Then came the development of fentanyl, a synthesized opioid more potent than heroin that met the opioid demand, but can quickly lead to overdose if tolerance is not high enough. This development gives us the opioid crisis of today, and fentanyl has spread widely and rapidly. Dunn says that most patients she works with have only fentanyl in their bloodstream. “For many of these patients we have no evidence that they even consumed heroin, their tolerance is very high.” 

Dunn states that fentanyl overdoses happen very fast and have “changed everything we know about treating abuse.” Today in the United States, drug poisoning and opioid-involved poisoning are the highest decrement to life expectancy. Fentanyl, as a short-acting opioid, has a protracted withdrawal, with withdrawal beginning four to six hours after the last does and lasting five to seven days. 

To combat this, researchers have begun using long-acting opioids to help patients manage withdrawal and focus on other aspects of rehabilitation. However, there is a treatment gap, with not enough medication available and restrictions placed on prescriptions making it so not everyone who needs it can access these treatments. Tramadol, or ultram, a long-acting opioid, is promising to combat the treatment gap because it has been a pain medication since the 1960s, doctors and pharmacists are familiar with it, and when the dose is increased, patients begin to feel bad effects instead of feeling better. It effectively suppresses withdrawal, there is low risk of abuse and the ease of prescription is higher than other long-acting opioids. 

Dunn conducted a series of studies to determine the effectiveness of tramadol, and in a double-blind, double dummy study, the effects of tramadol on withdrawal suppression were clinically significant as compared to two other long-acting opioids. When tapered off tramadol, the majority of withdrawal occurred while a patient in a treatment facility would be cared for by a provider, rather than after discharge. However, because there are still limits to prescription access to tramadol, Dunn also conducted a study to determine how to optimize treatment for patients most in need. To do this, Dunn assessed the level of dependency on opioids during withdrawal before administering the different long-acting opioids. She found that withdrawal symptoms were worse for those with high dependency, and that for patients with lower ratings of withdrawal effects, there was no difference in withdrawal between the medications. For patients with high ratings of withdrawal symptoms, there was a better response with tramadol as compared to the other two. Based on this, Dunn is looking to ascertain whether health care providers can predict which medication would work best for patients. 

Dunn concluded, saying “If people have meaningful differences with withdrawal, we can prescribe them the optimal drug, with the difficult-to-prescribe drugs going to those who most need it.” She goes on to note that withdrawal differences need to be further explored to best target treatments. Tramadol is still difficult to prescribe, as all prescription opioids become more restricted with the rise of the opioid epidemic, however it is still easier to prescribe than many, and in these preliminary studies, shows a lot of promise. 

Knits for the Needy: A Campus Club that Deserves Recognition

With over 50 student-organized clubs on the St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) campus, it is easy for some to go unnoticed. Some of the most prominent clubs include Humans vs. Zombies, Nerf Wars and rock climbing, but there are many other clubs which work extremely hard to do great things for the community which deserve to be recognized. The SMCM Knits for the Needy club is a close-knit group of students who meet up once a week and decompress through handiwork. 

The club has been in existence for over eight years and is open to people of all levels of knitting or crocheting. Gretchen Young (‘21) has been a member since her first year and she noted that all are welcome to attend a meeting and learn how to knit or crochet a stitch. Young noted that “there will always be someone to teach you and help you improve.” She continued, “It’s really exciting for us to welcome people for the afternoon!” 

Young has been knitting since she was in the third grade, when her parents gave her a kit for Christmas to knit a headband. She sought help from her grandmother as she started out, mentioning, “I have vivid memories of sitting on my couch next to my grandma, slowly casting on stitches and manipulating the needles for the first time.” 

Members of the club can usually be spotted at different times throughout the year outside of the Great Room selling some of their most recent creations. The profits made from sales are donated to a specific charity as voted on by the members. Each sale contains a wide variety of handiworks, from hats to little creatures made out of yarn. Young explained that her favorite thing to knit at the moment is scarves “since they are fairly easy but can be uniquely tailored to their recipient.” 

This year, members of the club voted on various charities to support, including St. Jude’s Research Hospital, The Trevor Project and a more local charity, The Mission, a homeless shelter in St. Mary’s County. In regards to the decision process, Young stated: “We feel that since members spend so much time on their projects, they should decide what causes are close to their hearts.”

Casey Greenberg (‘23) has been knitting for seven years, and joined the club after spotting their table at the Club Fair. Greenberg remarked, “I saw a booth at the involvement fair where people were knitting and immediately knew I’d found my people.” Her favorite thing to knit is hats, because “They are very efficient and immediately rewarding–you can go out and show it off as soon as you finish.”

Greenberg stated that all of the club meetings and events are her favorites. “We get to just sit around and knit, talking about our projects and making each other laugh.” For Young, Greenberg and other members of the group, knitting serves as a way to relieve stressors from classes and is an opportunity to spend time with friends who all share a love for handiwork. 

The club meets every Friday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Aldom Lounge next to the Campus Center. For more information, follow Knits for the Needy on instagram at @smcmknitsagram or contact the club advisors at knitsforneedy@smcm.edu.