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'I Just Want To Give Back To My Community': This Milwaukee Teen's Helping Fight The Opioid Crisis

Courtesy of Neil Dogra
Neil Dogra, founder of the Opioid Epidemic Awareness Campaign, presents his research on neuroscience to medical researchers.

Most teenagers’ worlds revolve around school, friends and family. But one Milwaukee teen has also dedicated himself to fighting the opioid epidemic.

Neil Dogra is a 17-year-old high school junior from Milwaukee and the founder of the Opioid Epidemic Awareness Campaign. He combines his interests in neuroscience, public speaking and peer advocacy to speak at middle and high schools, meet policy advisors on opioid education and reform. He also researches at UW-Milwaukee and the Medical College of Wisconsin on the side.  

Dogra was looking for a way to serve the city of Milwaukee and when he learned about the opioid crisis, he thought he could use his skills to help.

"Frankly, I just want to give back to my community and I believe the best way to give back to one’s community is to take what you’re good at and use it to help others. So for me, I’ve always loved science, I’ve always loved specifically neuroscience," he says.

After hearing Dr. Tina Freiburger and Dr. Melinda Kavanaugh speak on UWM Today about the epidemic, he reached out to learn more from them.

LISTEN: UWM Researchers Study Opioid Overdose Patterns & Impacts

He was then invited by the professors to join their work at UW-Milwaukee, helping conduct a study that found a trend that opioid users are often treated with anxiety medication. They also found that mixing opioids and anxiety medication can lead to a higher risk of death. This led Dogra to the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he began assisting research into safer anxiety managing medication for people addicted to opioids.

With his research, he also began educating students about the epidemic. Through the Opioid Epidemic Awareness Campaign, he created a presentation that he has given to middle and high schoolers across the Milwaukee Public Schools. He has also created a short film that covers the crisis from the perspectives of both health care workers and addicts. His message to students is rooted in his own experience and service. 

“Coming into my freshman year, I would have never thought that I would really do any of this. I did not consider myself a filmmaker or a neuroscience researcher and I just want students to know that the best way to learn about yourself is to help others,” he says.

Dogra will be giving a TEDx talk on his work in service Aug. 15 in Fond du Lac. The event will be livestreamed.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.