Communication students recognized for project on pills

A website project by a School of Communication interactive storytelling class, “Prescribing Addiction,” was recently nominated for the student category at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interact

Infograpic by Amilynn Soto

ive Awards, which will be announced March 13.

The project, a website that details prescription pill addictions among teens and young adults in South Florida, also won the Broadcast Education Associations’ Best of Festival at the annual Festival of Media Arts.

Students in an interactive storytelling class taught by visual journalism professor Kim Grinfeder created “Prescribing Addiction” last semester.

The website features video interviews with young South Floridians who have had experiences with prescription drugs, including a 13-year-old boy whose father used to take prescription pills.

Statistics and information are also available on the site about prescription drugs and their effects on typical users.

The site features information about prescription drugs including painkillers, sleeping aids and anti-depressants.

Senior Alex Budenz, who came up with the project topic and was the team leader for the videographers, said she was surprised to learn that they had been recognized for their work.

“We all poured ourselves into it,” Budenz said. “I was so proud that we pulled this together and ecstatic that we won an award for it.”

Last semester, students in the class were first required to submit different topic suggestions. The class also discussed other possible topics related to Miami like biking, culture diversity and the future of the city’s environment. Budenz’s idea was eventually agreed upon.

“We were drawn to it because it had the most social value,” said senior Iku Kawachi, the team leader for the designers and coders.

The class split up into groups of HTML5 coders, web designers and videographers to create the website. The videographers went to local Narcotics Anonymous meetings to meet sources.

The students focused their project on the younger population of prescription drug abusers: The stories on the site feature subjects whose ages range from 13 to 25, including a 20-year-old transgender male who started abusing prescription drugs around the age of 14 after they were first prescribed to him for headaches. Another subject, a 25-year-old prescription drug abuser, would see up to 10 doctors in South Florida every day to get his fix.

In 2009, prescription drug abuse was responsible for 2,488 deaths in the state of Florida alone, according to the students’ site.

However, not all prescription-drug-related deaths are included in that statistic. Activist Renee Doyle, an activist is featured on the site, lost her son when a car hit him while he was on prescription drugs. Since his death was a product of a motor vehicle accident, it is not included though prescription drugs played a role in his death.

“The number of deaths keeps escalating and it is a problem that knows no bounds,” Kawachi said.

Many consider prescription drug abuse to be an issue in Florida, where there are prescription drug clinics or “pill mills,” which one of the site’s video subjects, Evan, refers to as “legalized drug dealers.”

“There are a lot of people who even come from out of state to go to these pill mills,” said Nicole Collazo, a recent graduate who was involved in the project. “They buy the pills for cheaper and sell it or use it for themselves.”

These clinics didn’t have much regulation until tougher laws were enacted last September. The law now mandates the creation of tougher penalties for doctors who over-prescribe drugs and that doctors use tamper-proof prescription pads.

“They would give out pills to anyone who seems semi-legitimate,” Kawachi said.

There is a growing number of young adults that abuse prescription drugs. According to the site, 10.4 percent of Florida high school students admitted absuing prescription pills — such as Adderall, Ritalin and OxyContin — at least once.

“There are even people in middle school who are getting involved with it,” Collazo said. “It is interesting because I thought it was an older age range, but there are people starting off young and I didn’t expect that.”

The website also provides resources on getting help for addicts. It offers ideas on how to talk to a friend who is battling prescription pill addiction, as well as how to talk to kids about this issue.

There are also hotlines and local narcotics anonymous programs listed.