Penn State Berks Professor Murphy awarded Ken Peak Innovations in Teaching Award

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

Dr. Jennifer Murphy, associate professor of criminal justice at Penn State Berks, was recently awarded the 2023 Ken Peak Innovations in Teaching Award, given to one faculty member nationwide by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS).

The award was presented at the annual meeting of the ACJS on March 17, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland. The purpose of this award is to recognize and honor criminal justice and criminology faculty members for innovative teaching methods.

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Murphy is known for her innovative approach to educating criminal justice students, particularly about drug addiction and the use of naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.

She explains that despite widespread recognition that drug addiction is a disease, there is still a great deal of social stigma toward people with substance use disorder (SUD). This is problematic because social stigma can lead to self-stigma, where individuals with SUD internalize the negative stereotypes and messages they perceive from others. Self-stigma results in a reluctance to access treatment services, worse treatment outcomes, and physical and mental health problems.

After reviewing the research on stigma reduction efforts, Murphy created a training session for students in her senior seminar criminal justice course to improve addiction knowledge, reduce stigma, and increase knowledge/comfort using naloxone. She has since adapted the training session for various criminal justice courses; the training is offered both in person and virtually.

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She explained, “This teaching method has the potential to improve students’ knowledge about drug addiction, reduce their stigma toward people who use drugs, increase students’ skills related to future careers in criminal justice, and, most importantly, save lives. It is an important initiative because students in criminal justice will likely enter careers where they will encounter people with substance use disorder and should do so without exhibiting stigma. It is also something that can be replicated at other campuses and integrated into criminal justice curriculum.”

The initial training session involved five presentations from local professionals and community members. First, a physician specializing in addiction science discussed the disease model of addiction and the use of various medications to treat opioid use disorder. The next two speakers were people in long-term recovery, who spoke about their addiction issues, experiences with stigma, and recovery process. The fourth presenter was a local police officer who discussed his experiences as part of the local police effort (Blue CARES) to engage people who overdose into treatment. The last presenter was a community educator from a local treatment center who educated the students about how naloxone worked to reverse an opioid overdose and discussed why it is distributed widely to reduce overdose deaths. This speaker also demonstrated to the class how to use naloxone and gave students the opportunity to practice the steps in administering naloxone.

“While the availability of naloxone has increased in the past ten years, criminal justice students have not had much experience using naloxone, and few to none have had education on the disease of addiction,” Murphy explained. “Such training is essential for criminal justice students to reduce stigma before they enter criminal justice professions, so they exhibit more empathy and effectiveness when dealing with people with SUD.”

Dr. Brenda Russell, professor of psychology at Penn State Berks, assisted with the data collection and analysis for the innovative teaching session. Results showed that students had improved addiction knowledge and decreased stigma after completing the training session.

The initial project received funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency continues to provide naloxone for students at no cost.

Murphy’s research interests are in drug policy and the stigma of addiction. She is currently working on a project to educate police officers about addiction issues and treatment so that they are better prepared to implement diversion programs that link people to treatment in lieu of arrest. She teaches courses on drugs and drug policy, in which she has taken students to other countries (including the Netherlands and Portugal) to comparatively study drug policy and how governments respond to drug crises.

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