Kung’s community efforts lead to decreases in drug/substance use in rural Alabama’s middle school students

By UAB School of Health Professions; June 13, 2019

Michelle Kung, a second-year student in the UAB School of Health Professions’ Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Administration-Health Services program, recently completed the year-long Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and results from her work with middle school students in Alabama show decreases in students’ misuse of prescription medications, and their use of cigarettes, vape and alcohol.

Kung, and her research partner Raina Jain with the UAB School of Public Health, spent the 2018-19 school year working with 350 6th, 7th and 8th grade students at Sumiton Middle School in Walker County. Their partnership was called ATLAS: Alabama Teens Learn About Substance (Use) and they worked with students on ways to better cope with their everyday stressors.

She says kids can feel stress from home, from interacting with their peers, and even from school – stress is a constant weight that often leaves them feeling down. One of Kung’s goals was to address the root causes of this stress, find ways to decrease and neutralize stress, and emphasize to students the importance of handling stress in productive ways versus turning to drugs and alcohol as a temporary crutch.

“We helped the kids understand that it is okay to feel emotions and it is okay to feel down, but it is not okay to let your emotions keep you down,” said Kung.

To make the learning interesting, Kung and Jain used a Stress Management and Coping Skills Bingo game. Each square had a different method of stress management: meditation, competitive sports, playing with pets, hanging with friends, music, painting, exercise, etc.

“We tried to be eclectic [with bingo] because what may be a calming influence on one student can be an anxiety inducing exercise for another student. We stressed that everybody is different and that everybody deals with stress differently,” said Kung. She added that the bingo succeeded in engaging the students because of the competitive nature of the kids who all wanted to win.

Michelle Kung Poster

After six months with the students, Kung and Jain surveyed the students and found their efforts rewarded. More than half the students who had misused prescriptions medications or used cigarettes, vape or alcohol reported decreased use of those substances.

  • 12 of 22 (55%) students that have ever misused prescription medications, reported decreased use of opioids.
  • 50 of 63 (79%) students that have ever tried cigarette smoking, reported decreased use of cigarette smoking.
  • 77 of 118 (65%) students that have ever tried vaping, reported decreased use of vape products.
  • 75 of 110 (68%) students that have ever drunk alcohol, reported decreased consumption of alcohol.

“Being able to do the post-survey and seeing results with students coping better and using less, was humbling and it makes everything – all the time, the energy that you put in – it makes it all worth it.”

Kung has presented her Schweitzer Fellowship findings at three conferences across the state: the Community Engagement Institute (UAB), the Rural Health Conference (UA), and the Alabama Rural Health Conference (Montgomery).

Kung encourages any School of Health Professions student who has a vision and the will to improve the health of their community to apply for the Fellowship with the Alabama Schweitzer Chapter.

The Alabama Chapter, founded in 2015, is dedicated to improving the health of vulnerable people by developing a corps of emerging professionals who enter the workforce with the skills and commitment necessary to address unmet health needs.

Accessed at: https://www.uab.edu/shp/news/home/students-faculty/kung-schweitzer-work