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The HLA Effect: Operation Naloxone

Dec. 9, 2019

Health Leadership Apprentice Program coordinator Landon A. Hackley authored the following post.

Vandana Dubakula is a recent graduate from The University of Texas at Austin who obtained a bachelor's degree in neuroscience along with a Business of Healthcare Certificate. An Austin native, Dubakula joined the Health Leadership Apprentice Program in fall 2018. During her time in HLA, she was heavily involved in Operation Naloxone through the UT Austin College of Pharmacy, where she researched how the educational training sessions Operation Naloxone conducted affected the public’s perception of opioids.

Vandana Dubakula headshot.

Dubakula got involved with Operation Naloxone after learning about addiction through a neuroscience course. She learned about the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind addiction that drive human behavior and became passionate about the subject. She wanted to look at how these mechanisms influence the behaviors of people in Austin and how these behaviors influence the stigma surrounding opioids.

Dubakula began volunteering at the Austin Harm Reduction Coalition to help people living with drug addiction and to learn first-hand how these molecular mechanisms of addiction affect the lives of real people.

UT Pharmacy students conduct the Operation Naloxone trainings. They train others on how to identify signs and symptoms of opioid overdose and how to address the situation. This includes learning how to conduct their behavior when dealing with individuals who have overdosed and how to reverse the effects of overdose through naloxone administration.

Dubakula's role was to examine the changes in knowledge of opioids and naloxone, the community’s perspective and community members’ self-efficacy after participating in the training. She did this through various methods, including conducting surveys before and after training sessions to gather data on participants’ ability to recognize opioids; their understanding of addiction and its effects on individuals; their confidence in stepping in to help in the event of a crisis; and more. She used a data processing program to quantify her findings and determine if there were statistically significant changes after training.

Thanks to her volunteering and research, Dubakula was able to present her findings at one of Dell Medical School’s poster symposiums.

“Now I want to find ways to implement what I learned by improving the Operation Naloxone training to better educate community members about opioids and naloxone,” Dubakula said.

Her work has already begun to make waves in Operation Naloxone trainings. The curriculum has been altered to be more hands-on and engaging, such as asking students to come up to identify opioids among a variety of drugs and physically circle their answer choices. By doing so, participants have been more attentive, engaged and excited to learn.

In the future, Dubakula hopes to build Operation Naloxone’s partnership with UT Austin’s Counseling and Mental Health Center and develop more individualized training sessions that can be tailored to the participants, to see if that improves education on opioids and intervention methods.

Outside of HLA and Operation Naloxone, Dubakula works at a clinical trial startup in an operations management role. She helps with patient data collection methods and workflows. After finishing the year at work, she plans to go back to school in pursuit of an M.D. Her dream is to practice medicine in a field that involves both her passions: neurology and endocrinology. When she isn’t working, Dubakula enjoys writing through various media outlets, getting outside to hike and soak up the sun and staying inside to practice her cooking skills.

If you are interested in learning more about Dubakula's work, reach out to an HLA program coordinator.