From the ER to the State House

Dana Scholar Kevan Shah ’22 spent the summer contributing to a report about opioid addiction in New Jersey that’s now with state legislators.

By: Meghan Kita  Thursday, December 13, 2018 10:30 AM

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Kevan Shah ’22 spent the summer contributing to a report on opioid addiction in his home state.

During high school, Kevan Shah ’22 spent time shadowing in an emergency room near his home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. On his first day, he saw a doctor use the drug naloxone to resuscitate an unconscious young man who had overdosed on opioids.

“Within seconds, he was awake, breathing and aware of his surroundings,” Shah says. “It was the kind of life-saving intervention that I thought only occurs in movies.”

While shadowing the following week, he saw another dramatic naloxone resuscitation—of the same young man.

“It was in that moment that I realized that although we know how to reverse an opioid overdose, we may still be far from knowing how to reverse the underlying disease of opioid addiction,” Shah says. “That realization sparked in me a desire to reach beyond the emergency room and into the community-based organizations actively fighting opioid addiction.”

Shah knew of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC), a nonprofit serving individuals who have been incarcerated, through his older brother, a doctor who works closely with the organization. He landed a summer internship there, which gave him the opportunity to meld two of his passions: doing research and addressing the opioid crisis.

Shah had previously conducted neurological research pertaining to Alzheimer’s at his high school under the mentorship of Donna Leonardi, who runs the Cellular Biology Lab at Bergen County Academies. As an intern at NJRC, he contributed his research skills to a report assessing the opioid addiction problem in his home state and suggesting best practices to remedy it.

Shah, who was part of a team of undergraduate researchers working on the report, specifically focused on examining what treatment opportunities exist currently in New Jersey and what opportunities might exist in the future. The report recommends medication-assisted therapy for addicts, treatment-provider models that have worked to reduce deaths in other states and long-term assistance to help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society. It is currently with the New Jersey State House for review.

“To have learned more about Kevan’s experience as a high-school senior, to be involved in such a meaningful research project, it all adds up: Of course it would be Kevan who would be doing this,” says Political Science Professor Mohsin Hashim, who knows Shah through the Dana Scholars program he directs. “You can feel he’s not doing it to beef up his CV; it means something to him.”

Shah, who is considering a major in neuroscience, biology and/or public health, chose to come to Muhlenberg partially because of its opportunities to do research as a first-year student. He plans to begin working in the lab of Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Gretchen Gotthard in the spring. Long-term, he wants to eventually pursue a career in medicine and research: “I’m hoping down the line to be a physician-leader who strives to help patients from the lab bench to the bedside to the policymaking table.”