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Local Not-for-Profit Foundation Recruits Lake County Med School Students to Reduce the Harm Caused by Recreational Drug Use

Here in Lake County there is a not-for-profit organization, the GPF Foundation, that is committed to support education, treatment and awareness of the risks associated with recreational drugs through partnerships with the academic and medical community. To achieve its goals the Foundation recruits a new group of students every year to participate in the GPF Foundation's Fellowship Initiative.

Since 2019 the Fellowship Initiative has created educational programs for young adults (high school and college age) on the dangers of recreational drug use, especially MDMA (ecstasy). Its student members ("fellows") are drawn from the student body of Lake County’s own medical college, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (RFUMS).

Hamad Hussain and Alex Woods were two of the earliest to join the GPF Foundation through the Fellowship Initiative. Hussain, who grew up in the suburbs, was drawn to participate because he wanted to help educate his community. Woods, a native Michigander, applied for a fellowship due in part to having witnessed friends struggle with MDMA use. Together with another founding fellow and M.D. candidate, Lexie Kessler, the trio produced a peer-led multimedia presentation that the foundation’s interns and partners give to universities and other organizations illustrating the risks associated with ecstasy and other recreational drugs, as well as what treatments are provided when users experience a negative reaction. Wood says it’s important to know that the fellows worked in partnership with other researchers and doctors, including Dr. Joseph Palamar of New York University’s Department of Population Health, to ensure that the education program was backed by research from experts in the field.

Woods notes that the uniqueness of the GPF Foundation’s education approach is its focus on harm reduction. He says that “the impact of the foundation's message is to educate young adults in a non-judgmental way that helps protect people, prevent harm, and where there is harm, prevent further harm.”

The harm reduction curriculum is shared across Lake County and the Chicago region through presentations by GPF Foundation interns and partnerships that include Lake Forest College, the Highwood Public Library, Highland Park High School, and more. This collaboration helps grow the Foundation’s reach and recognition in the broader community.

Hussain adds that another strength of the Fellows is their ability to connect with young adults on a personal level because they are in the same age group as the target audience.

Although Hussain and Woods have since moved on from their fellowships as their academic careers progressed, they both agree that the experience has helped shape the way they will interact with patients in the future. Kessler, while continuing her RFUMS medical studies, has joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The first group of fellows have been succeeded by another two cohorts that include Jeremy Foreman, a Lake County native and current RFUMS student. He says he was inspired to seek a fellowship after witnessing a friend’s MDMA overdose. “I wanted to see if I could combine my studies in chronic pain and opioid research, as well as my experience witnessing an overdose, to really get involved with advocating harm reduction.”

In Foreman’s work with the GPF Foundation, he reviews research and articles about harm reduction and treatments to improve or update educational content. Foreman also notes that the curriculum has evolved with feedback from other organizations. For instance, after presenting to both high school and college age students, the fellows have since tailored the curriculum to better fit the needs of each of the two different groups. Foreman notes that the fellows help enable the GPF Foundation to adapt their content as quickly as necessary.

The work by doctoral students such as Alex Woods, Hamad Hussain, Lexie Kessler and Jeremy Foreman benefits not only the Foundation, but its partners and the surrounding community.

About the Author: Kaity Mueller graduated last month with a degree in English from Lake Forest College. To learn more about the GPF Foundation’s mission and success please visit

  • Alexander Woods
  • Hamad Hussain
  • Lexie Kessler
  • Jeremy Foreman