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'Passion and heart': UNC scientist recognized by Time100 for his work preventing overdose deaths

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Photo Courtesy of Heather Craig.

Nabarun Dasgupta said he never expected to appear on the Time100 Next List, but the senior scientist at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health is now being recognized for his work to prevent drug-overdose deaths. 

“Anytime I'd look through it, it felt unattainable. Like that wasn't something that was going to happen,” Dasgupta said. “So this is just an unexpected, nice thing.” 

The Time100 Next List highlights emerging leaders from around the world. Dasgupta is an epidemiologist who has been studying opioid overdose for about 20 years. He said he became interested in the issue after a friend passed away from an overdose. When the Center for Disease Control could not tell him how many overdose deaths there were each year, he decided to look into how these numbers are collected and shared.

Since then, Dasgupta's work has focused on preventing overdose deaths, including devising a system of swabbing street drugs and testing them at UNC.

Dasgupta said he is passionate about “telling true stories about health with numbers.”

He spends a lot of time working directly with people who have experienced overdose or lost loved ones due to overdose and focuses on sharing his findings with North Carolina citizens.

“What we really do is called science and service,” Dasgupta said. “It's not just a matter of doing research for research’s sake, but it's rather picking the questions that the community provides to us to answer with the data resources we have.”

Maya Doe-Simkins, co-director of the overdose prevention nonprofit Remedy Alliance for the People, said Time was “right on” in identifying Dasgupta to be included in their Next List. 

Remedy Alliance acts as a nationwide supplier of naloxone, an overdose reversal agent. Doe-Simkins said Dasgupta helped with Remedy Alliance’s initial formation, and after a naloxone shortage in 2021, he stepped in again to help the organization become an official nonprofit and expand its services.

“He's consistently used his position as an academic and a researcher to take up issues that create barriers for the social service programs and the public health programs,” she said.

Dasgupta also helped Carolina Harm Reduction Union (CHRU), a student club formed last spring working to provide naloxone and fentanyl testing strips across campus, access free naloxone through the nonprofit. 

“It's evident if you ever talk with him just how much passion and heart he brings into this issue,” Riley Sullivan, a UNC senior who reached out to Dasgupta for help with CHRU, said.

Dasgupta said that, while college campuses do not have the most opioid overdoses overall, there are still overdose deaths that happen at UNC and they are preventable. 

“It's a responsibility that we have, as being a part of our community, to prevent to the best of our ability the deaths that happen on campus,” he said.

Something Dasgupta said he has enjoyed about the Time100 Next List recognition has been the opportunity to connect with other recipients who are leaders in data science, health and medicine and the possibility to collaborate in the future.

Another reason the distinction has been special, Dasgupta said, is because when his family immigrated from India, they didn’t think people like them would be on lists like this.

“I think that means a lot and is kind of the most emotionally fulfilling piece of this,” he said.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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