Led by passion to save lives, senior creates The Opioid Project


photo courtesy of Pooja Reddy

Senior Pooja Reddy holds a copy of Missouri Senate Bill No. 63 at the headquarters of PreventEd in St. Louis. The bill became effective on Aug. 28, 2021, and it established the Joint Oversight Task Force of Prescription Drug Monitoring in the state of Missouri.

Vijay Viswanathan

“My work in the context of the opioid crisis began when I learned a family member had fallen victim to substance use disorder. I saw trusted coworkers, friends and family’s praise turn to disgust and their admiration to judgment. I was heartbroken to find my hero was suddenly alone. And it was then I knew I could not stand idly by,” senior Pooja Reddy said.

Reddy is the founder and head of an organization called The Opioid Project, which aims to combat opioid overdoses by placing ‘naloxboxes’ in high-risk locations across St. Louis. Naloxboxes contain the drug Naloxone, used to combat the effects of an opioid overdose. She is also a member of the PreventEd board. PreventEd was formerly known as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA).

“Naloxboxes are boxes [that] improve public access to [opioid] overdoes tools, usher anonymity to individuals in need during an opioid overdose, reduce the stigma associated with opioid and substance use disorder and provide the crucial time necessary to seek medical attention. Think of it like AED boxes that help individuals in a cardiac arrest crisis. Naloxboxes are emergency boxes supplied with Naloxone that helps with an overdose situation,” Reddy said.

Naloxboxes are a national initiative that started in Rhode Island and later expanded nationwide. They have been installed in many cities and college campuses, with the most recent college campus to install Naloxboxes being the University of West Virginia.

Reddy said that there was some emotion involved in starting The Opioid Project, but her desire to overturn the “broken system” fueled her to begin.

“It was definitely heartbreaking to see someone so close [to me] fall victim to a broken system that makes it hard for people to speak up and get the help they need,” Reddy said. “[The broken system] is the stigmatization that exists in our country about issues such as mental health and substance use disorder-that acts as a barrier for people to get the help they need.”

Reddy helped to bring about Missouri Senate Bill No. 63, which established the Joint Oversight Task Force of Prescription Drug Monitoring. The bill was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson on Jun. 8, 2021. St. Louis County also has its own version of the Prescription Drug Monitoring program, which was started in 2016 and has expanded to other counties in Missouri.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) define a drug monitoring program as an operation that track the distribution of controlled substances in a state. For Reddy, the work to advocate for such a program was a challenge; however, it was worth it and she hopes to continue this kind of work in her future professions.

“I have also worked alongside PreventEd to speak with Missouri [state] senators to pass Missouri’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. This was an even bigger step to addressing systemic change for future generations, which is something I hope to do as a physician,” Reddy said.