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National Emergency fuels a Classroom Debate: Role-play and Discussion on the Opioid Crisis

We have developed an activity that involves role-play to understand the social norms and conflicts surrounding the opioid crisis. Recently declared a “nationwide public health emergency,” the opioid crisis is a topic that students would likely be interested in understanding the different issues and “key players” wrapped up in this national crisis.


  1. Students are assigned different roles.


For different roles: 1) law enforcement who wishes to make the drug illegal, 2) drug czars who are the people working to create a federal policy of  “just say no”, 3) family members of survivors, 4) drug users, 5) medical professionals, 6) community organizers who work for advocacy groups and agencies, 7) counseling professionals.

2. Students complete background readings.

Some background readings:

3. Students come to class prepared with their dialogue planned and a short monologue ready to present at the beginning of the debate.


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  1. Group 1 Comments:
    We think this is a good way to teach perspective-taking and the different group interests in the opioid crisis. In conducting this role play, we wonder if it would become explicit that certain groups would have overlapping interests in the debate. What background readings do students complete? We noticed that your image had polls from different political groups; is this represented in the debate as well?

  2. The group 2 response: The topic may be very controversial as there may be students in the classroom with direct experience with opioids. The instructor has to be prepared to have an informing discussion with the students even when they are defending a particular substance. Otherwise, the discussion may backfire very quickly, or some students may feel threatened.

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