Poly Students Take on Opioid Safety for Peers

(Photo courtesy Mia Singla) - After taking a deep dive into the opioid crises unfolding across the nation, Polytechnic juniors Mia and Asher Singla have launched a program to help educate their peers about opioid addiction and abuse, called the Teenage Opioid Safety Initiative.

First published in the March 10 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.

Though the last two years have taken a marked toll on adolescents everywhere, Polytechnic juniors Mia and Asher Singla discovered a pandemic passion project that they hope can save lives and transform health education.
Together, the Singlas — who are twins — have launched an effort to inform fellow teenagers about opioid addiction through a practical program called the Teenage Opioid Safety Initiative. The program has been launched through a website, which includes an opioid safety lesson plan for teachers, an opioid safety worksheet for students and a 15-minute presentation detailing what the drugs are, common ways teenagers may encounter opioids as they grow up and how addiction to them can take hold.
The initiative sprung at the beginning of the pandemic, and really gave the two something to dig into during the year of online schooling and stay-at-home orders.
“Asher and I decided we wanted to spread our message in a more comprehensive way and reach as many young people as we could,” Mia said. “Since we started this whole project during the pandemic, we did face some challenges early on about not being able to give our presentations face to face, but we actually ended up really liking the way the Zoom features let us present, plus we could reach more people.”
The Singla siblings first became intrigued by conversations they overheard at home about opioid addiction and the “crisis” unfolding across the nation a few years back. Their parents, Neil and Sonia Singla, are healthcare professionals with experience in pain management clinical trials, so the topic was one of frequent discussion. During one of those talks, Mia and Asher wondered why they hadn’t learned about opioids more specifically in their 8th grade health class, a benchmark class widely considered to cover major topics including sex education, drug use, diet, exercise and mental health. The two had an “aha” moment, Mia recalled: “If we’re not learning it at a school like Poly, we knew kids across the country aren’t learning it either.”
The Singlas also had access to research to fuel their sense of urgency. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 6,000 youth ages 15 to 24 died of an overdose involving opioids in the United States in 2020, amounting to 84% of all drug overdose deaths in that age group. Meanwhile, across the nation, about 1.6 million kids ages 12 to 17 — 6.3% of the adolescent population — had a substance use disorder in 2020, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Before getting started, the pair did a deep dive into the opioid crisis to educate themselves, reading South Pasadena-based author and acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones’ nonfiction book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” As it turned out, a Poly classmate was the author’s nephew and facilitated an interview for the twins for their website.
“Through [Sam Quinones] and his book, we really got a different perspective on the opioid crisis in general, especially what a very multifaceted issue it is, caused by so many inner-working forces,” Asher said. “You can’t really tackle the crisis just by going after one issue, so we learned about widening the scope and focusing on education.”
Mia and Asher also searched for people willing to share their experience with opioid addiction to help personalize the crisis, ultimately finding a young woman who they also interview on the website.
“I think teenagers have this idea in their minds of drug addicts being creepy crawly people on the streets or in some very dark situation, and while that can also be true, we wanted to present basic information about opioids that they can use to make their own decisions later on and hopefully keep them from going into a darker place,” Mia said.
The Singlas even volunteered at a recovery facility last summer in Ohio to meet more people at the heart of the opioid crisis.
“I think that experience made us more passionate about this project, because we were able to interact with people who were in recovery and hear really open conversations about their experience in trying to get better and their struggle with drugs,” Asher said. “It really struck a chord in me.”
Mia and Asher said they have since given dozens of presentations to students ages 14 and up, not just at Poly but through about 10 magnet schools around the Los Angeles area. They’ve also been working with Youth to Youth and Friday Night Live, a program that builds partnerships for healthy youth development.
They hope to get their opioid education site integrated into a curriculum through health courses and schools, and to expand the message nationally. The teenagers have used a “simple is better” approach to the information, highlighting what opioids are, how to visually recognize them from other medications, short-term and long-term effects of usage and how to consult with doctors to use them appropriately.
“We don’t like using scare tactics, we just don’t think those work as well. We do let kids know that in certain situations, if taken as prescribed and closely monitored, that opioids can be a good way to manage pain. But we also make them aware that a lot of addictions begin by using legally prescribed opioids from doctors,” Mia said. “Asher and I aren’t experts or scientists, we just want to talk to people our own age and relate to them, spread awareness and hopefully save lives.”
To learn more about Mia and Asher Singla’s program, the Teenage Opioid Safety Initiative, visit the website teenageopioidsafety.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here