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Inside the Opioid Crisis

Causes, Treatments and Policies


Cheuk Hin Li

Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School


This case study follows the struggles of "James" as he copes with extreme pain resulting from an automobile accident.  Unable to manage his symptoms with over-the-counter drugs, James is prescribed oxycodone but fails to strictly follow the instructions of his physician. In a matter of weeks, he finds himself addicted to the narcotic and is eventually hospitalized for an overdose. By working through this case, students will come to understand how a person can become addicted to controlled substances and learn about current policies addressing the opioid crisis. The included questions are designed to prompt critical thinking regarding health care policies and lead to further research using online publications and news articles. The case concludes with an assignment for which student teams create presentations examining policies or actions that address the opioid crisis. The case was designed for high school students as an introduction to public health, but could also be used in college-level courses introducing drugs of abuse, such as a neuroscience or public health course.


  • Explain the basic functions of opioid drugs and their effects on the body.
  • Identify the types of policies implemented by the government to minimize the harm caused by opioid addiction.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of opioid agonist therapy and safe consumption sites.
  • Identify local organizations that offer addiction support through class discussions.
  • Evaluate current policies on opioid addiction through class discussions.


Oxycodone; oxycontin; oxy; opioid; opioid dependence; addiction; public health; naloxone; health policy; methadone; heroine; fentanyl; Good Samaritan; drug overdose

Topical Areas

Policy issues, Regulatory issues, Social issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Directed, Student presentations



Subject Headings

Public Health  |   Nursing  |   Pharmacy / Pharmacology  |   Psychology  |   Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Susan’s Brain: The Science of Addiction
    This brief animation, featured in National Geographic’s Short Film Showcase, describes the effects of opioids on receptors and how tolerance is developed. Running time: 4:37 min. Produced by Lily Fang/Harvard X, 2017.