Solving the Opioid Crisis: What are Opioids


The University of Michigan is teaming up with Coursera to create Teach-Outs which are week-long MOOC lecture series which address problems currently faced in society today. Following will be notes for The Opioid Crisis.

michael_smith113This post is notes from an interview with Mike Smith, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy and Clinical Pharmacist in Pain and Palliative Care at Michigan Medicine.


An opioid is a class of drug that binds an opioid receptor. Unlike pain medications of other classes, opioids can easily lead to euphoria, particularly in higher doses. Years after doctors started prescribing opioids, scientists found that opioids only work on a certain class of pain; therefore, it had been over- and mis-prescribed for years. The abundance of opioids in the community that resulted from this over-prescription led to increased recreational use and addiction. Dr. Smith feels that the best way to bring the opioid crisis to a halt is to minimize the number of pills that are being prescribed. A good second step to halting the crisis would be to identify opioid misuse earlier in patients.

The interview ends with this discussion question: What kinds of innovative steps could be taken to collect surplus opioids in communities like yours?

I admit that I know little about what steps have already been taken to encourage people to properly dispose of opioids; however, I think a government- (or insurance-) funded program where people are partially reimbursed for returning certain prescriptions to their pharmacies when they don’t need the drugs anymore would be beneficial. The problem is that many tax-payers may not approve of such a use of their money and the insurance companies would also object if they were forced by federal regulation to fund such a program.

Democratic to Authoritarian Rule: Tools of Authoritarianism

Big Fist Over People

These are my notes for the third set of lectures about Democratic to Authoritarian Rule at the University of Michigan. The rest of my notes can be found here.

juan1The third set of lectures, Tools of Authoritarianism, begins with a set of lectures by Juan Cole, a Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He speaks about the Arab Spring of the 2010s. The Arab Spring took place because the post-colonial Arab world was ruled mainly by presidents-for-life. The Millennials became angry and scared because the colonial times that these presidents had saved their countries from had been long before the Millennials were born – the Millennials couldn’t remember and therefore couldn’t relate. Some of these presidents-for-life were setting up their children to take over for them, and the Millennials wanted a democratic vote. They mobilized by word-of-mouth and social media and managed to overthrow their governments. However, the presidents who were voted in during the Arab Spring also had authoritarian tendencies, such as arresting dissenters and suppressing gatherings using military force. These presidents had learned their lessons about social media and began to monitor it. Professor Cole warns against ignoring such prying into our private documents here in the US.

s200_brian-porter-sz_csThe third set of lectures continues with a commentary by Brian Porter-Szucs, a Profesor of History at the University of Michigan. He talks about everyday authoritarianism in today’s Poland. Poland is ruled by the party that is in control, rather than by the President or Prime Minister per se. That means the leader of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is the authoritarian ruler of Poland. Porter-Szucs points out that in any political argument, someone always gets compared to Stalin or Hitler, and says that this is usually an overstatement. However, he also points out that to MOST people during Stalin or Hitler’s regimes, life went on like normal. They went to work, fell in love, hung out with their friends, dreamed their dreams. It was the minorities targeted by these regimes that mainly suffered. Porter-Szucs’ point is that it is easy to ignore what is going on around you, and to not even realize that an authoritarian regime is being built.

image-1519164454718Pauline Jones, the Director of the University of Michigan’s International Institute and a Professor of Political Science, completes the third set of lectures by describing Putin’s Russia. He came to power through what seems to be a fair democratic vote, but soon started changing the laws so that the country became an autocracy. For instance, he increased the length of time he could be in power before another vote. He also indirectly supported assaults against, and assassinations of, journalists who disagreed with his regime. Professor Jones’ main point was how easy and often legal it is for a person in power to begin the first steps to create an autocracy.


The third set of lectures ends with this discussion question: Extreme polarization in a democratic society is viewed as many researchers as an early sign of authoritarian rule. Do you agree and why?

I guess I can see how extreme polarization could be one of the first signs of authoritarian rule – because authoritarian leaders use media to spread propaganda which people either believe or strongly disagree with. However, I don’t think it is necessarily a sign of authoritarian rule. In the US, politics began to get very polarized and started down a slippery slope during George W. Bush’s, then Obama’s, then Trump’s administrations. I wouldn’t say any of these leaders (as of yet) is authoritarian – although I see why people would believe any of the three of these leaders WAS authoritarian.


Democratic to Authoritarian Rule: Lecture Set 2

Big Fist Over People

These are my notes for the second set of lectures about Democratic to Authoritarian Rule by Professor Arun Agrawal at the University of Michigan. The rest of my notes can be found here.

In his second set of lectures, Professor Agrawal talks about Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule in India from June 1975 – March 1977. Gandhi was democratically elected as Prime Minister in 1975, but the election was declared void by the Allahabad High Court due to electoral malpractice. Instead of stepping down after her appeals failed, Indira Gandhi had the President of India declare a state of emergency in India – purportedly because the protests were a danger to the country. During the state of emergency, Gandhi broke all five of the key components of democracy as outlined by Professor Agrawal. When she declared a state of emergency, she shut down electricity to media outlets so that the situation could not be fairly reported. She arrested her opposition, and the ones she couldn’t arrest had to go into hiding. Thus, all five of the key components of democracy (as outlined by Professor Agrawal) were broken: rule of law, freedom of expression, presence of a coherent and organized opposition, a free judiciary, and free and fair elections where all citizens have the right to vote.

The scary thing about this situation is how quickly it happened. One night, people went to sleep in a democracy. When they woke up, they were in an authoritarian regime. Just like that.

For discussion, Professor Agrawal asks: What do you see as the two most important institutions of democratic politics whose decline should set alarm bells ringing for citizens and why?

Of the five institutions of democratic politics, I think the most important should be free and fair elections where all citizens have the right to vote and the rule of law. As I see it, these are the most basic ones that define democracy, and are the easiest to break.


Democratic to Authoritarian Rule – A Teach-Out by University of Michigan

Big Fist Over People

The University of Michigan is teaming up with Coursera to create Teach-Outs which (as far as I can determine) are week-long MOOC lecture series which address problems currently faced in society today. I have belatedly signed up for their Teach-Out “Democratic to Authoritarian Rule” which started on 2/12/2018. 

arun_agrawal_0The first lecture was by Professor Arun Agrawal, who explained how modern democracy can become authoritarian. In both older and modern authoritarianism, the leader/regime attempts to disable the basic building blocks of democracy, such as elections, free press, check and balances on their power, and rule of law. They may also unfairly enforce laws against people of certain race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. For instance, the regime might promote what they call a democratic election, but undermine the election by keeping some populations from voting (like the modern ID laws, which make it difficult for very poor and homeless people to vote) and by calling the election fraudulent when they don’t agree with the outcome. They might undermine the rule of law by criticizing the judicial system when it disagrees with the regime’s own point of view. (Or by removing the Judicial Branch from the list of government branches on the White House webpage.) They can undermine free press by calling it “fake news” and handing out awards for the “fakest” news. They might claim that they are above the law (for instance, are unable to be sued). [Specific examples aimed at Donald Trump are my own insertions.]

Professor Agrawal ends his lecture with a prompt to introduce ourselves by noting any experience we have had with authoritarian politics and/or our concerns about democratic vs. authoritarian tendencies in our own countries:

I am a soon-to-be-married white middle-class woman from the USA, who has been privileged enough to not be personally impacted by what I would consider the authoritarian tendencies of Donald Trump. I can vote, and I’m fairly confident that my vote wasn’t unfairly discounted due to claims of fraud or lack of identification. I have not been banned from traveling, though I personally know people who have been stuck on one side of the border or the other by such bans. I have not been immediately affected (though I expect the impact to come eventually) of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and his denial and suppression of climate change data. Despite my relative safety from these issues, I am very frightened of where Donald Trump’s plans (or lack thereof) are leading the US and the world. I know that if he continues as is, many more people will suffer, and I am saddened by where our county is headed.

However, I also realize that many people felt the same way about Obama (though I can’t imagine how they can rationalize that). I also know that we, in the US, have it pretty good compared to millions others in authoritarian countries. For that, I am grateful.





Did Jesus believe the end of the world was nigh?

Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus’ death (i.e. around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70CE). 

This was a difficult topic for me because I’m still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.

The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1

Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison

Allison’s essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus’ speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.

Allison surveys current arguments for and against Jesus’ eschatology. He then demonstrates that the New Testament has undeniable eschatological imagery and phrasing. He points out that although it’s possible that the authors of the New Testament had eschatological leanings when Jesus did notthere’s no reason to believe that they mistakenly, or intentionally, changed Jesus’ message; therefore, it is very likely that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.

As I thought about my assignment, however, I pondered the possibility that perhaps the authors wrote the passages about the destruction of the Temple after the fact, and then attributed the words to Jesus in order to help make sense of the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Did Jesus really foresee the destruction of the Temple? Or were the authors of the Gospels trying to provide spiritual guidance to their people during a time of great turmoil?

In the end, I decided that, since this prophecy isn’t the only eschatological speech Jesus made, he was very likely an apocalyptic preacher – regardless of whether he believed the end of the world was nigh. I plan to read some more on this subject before fully making up my mind, though. 

What does everyone else think? Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? Did he believe the end of the world was coming in the near future? Were certain passages of the Gospels written by people who retroactively attributed a prophecy of the Temple’s destruction to Jesus?

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society – Thoughts on the first week

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society

The first week of Coursera’s Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society, taught by Bernard Dov Cooperman at the University of Maryland is complete! And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. One thing that impresses me is the development of Coursera’s discussion platform since the last time I took a course (a couple years ago). The discussion board is much easier to navigate now. Plus, there is a striking lack of trolls considering the topic. Trolls were a huge problem in the last class I took (one on Greek Mythology). I don’t know if this lack of trolls is specific to this course, or if they’ve been beaten away from Coursera altogether, though. We’ll see!

In this course, Dr. Cooperman wants to depart from the question that is usually asked: “Why were the Jewish people persecuted throughout history,” and look at the issue from a different angle: 

“Our focus is not on why a majority society saw Jews as different or reacted with violence to Jews’ “otherness.” Rather, we ask how, in a society dedicated to religious uniformity, one group of people was tolerated even though it refused to join the dominant faith. Many modern writers assume that Christianity, and perhaps religion itself, is inherently intolerant of non-believers. But we will see that neither religious nor secular world views necessarily lead to toleration or discrimination…Our question then is not: how tolerant was this religious society towards members of other faiths? Rather we ask, how did a religious society manage to practice tolerance, and under what circumstances did that practice break down?

Dr. Cooperman begins his lectures by asking the students a question: what is the difference between tolerance and toleration, and why do we think he chose the phrase “the practice of tolerance” for the title of his course. 

When I looked up the definitions of toleration and tolerance in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this is what I came up with:

toleration – a) the act of tolerating something; b) a government policy of permitting forms of belief and worship not officially established

tolerance – a willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own. 

From these definitions, many of us concluded that toleration was an act and tolerance a feeling. However, there is also a more subtle difference: the “practice of toleration” in Cooperman’s course title could refer to the act of accepting and embracing people who are different than ourselves. So this course is about how, at some times throughout history, the Roman Catholics truly accepted the Jewish people rather than just allowing them to remain in their midst. It remains for Cooperman to show us the ebbs and flows of this “practice of toleration.”

Cooperman then provided many links and references to introduce us to the Jewish faith, including this YouTube link to part 2 of a series called “History of the Jews.” This week, Cooperman is focusing mainly on Judaism and Christianity as it was during Jesus’ time and during the following Jesus Movement of early Christianity. An important issue to note about the dynamics of these two groups was that the early Christians were Jews. Cooperman points out that Paul was not a systematic thinker trying to re-create rules of Judaism, but a Jew who had undergone a powerful spiritual experience and who was most likely struggling to make sense of these new revelations. He urged us to read Paul’s letters to the Romans and keeping an eye out for passages that show this tension in Paul. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to complete this assignment yet, but I’ll post my findings when I do. 🙂

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy – Enrollment!

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy

Well, I’ve shown a terrible lack of discipline this week. Quite against the spirit of Resolution 5: Please, Just Stop! I have signed up for several Coursera MOOCs this year – Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society begins on March 10, and runs for 6 weeks. I intend to post my thoughts on this course weekly. 

a little later…
I’ve now looked over all the lecture notes for the first week and I’m so thrilled at all the wonderful supplemental reading suggestions provided by Dr. Cooperman! One reason I only rarely sign up for these Coursera classes is because I have an OCD need to read all suggested readings and totally immerse myself in a subject. And such a thing simply isn’t possible within a course’s time-frame. And then I get all nervous and shaky and feel overwhelmed. So I tend to focus on Great Courses lecture series instead, because I can go as slowly as I want. But I really love being able to interact and network with people who have similar interests (albeit different opinions) – and that’s what I love about Coursera.  

So I’ve vowed that I will simply move through this entire course and not fret about reading everything. I’ll just write down all the suggested readings, and I can get to them later during my personal studies.

Does anyone else have this tendency to get frustrated when you can’t read everything, or to over-commit to your passions and interests?