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ENGL 202A: Effective Writing: Writing for the Social Sciences

Evan Ringle

Research Paper: Opioid Abuse


  • The paper should be 5 to 7 pages in length, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12pt font, 1” margins
  • It should include a Title Page, Abstract, and Reference list in APA format
  • Title Page, Abstract, and Reference List do not count as part of the 5-7 pages
  • The paper should include at least five sources. At least three sources should be scholarly (i.e. from an Academic journal, a peer-reviewed article, or a think-tank publication). Feel free to use as many scholarly sources as you'd like.


This unit asks you to think critically about opioid abuse or some other form of addiction in our community. It’s a problem that raises questions about our health care system, access to additional services (mental health, etc.), the role played by our criminal justice system, and the specific needs of people living with addiction.

Consider the various issues related to addiction and focus on a particular sub-topic that interests you. Compose an argumentative paper in response to it. An argumentative paper can be any of the following:

  • The answer to a question you've proposed (e.g. “How can nurses be better prepared for the likelihood that addicts will try to feed their addictions during hospital visits?”)
  • An argumentative position on a debatable topic (e.g. “Making Narcan freely and readily available to any individual in an overdose situation is crucial to saving lives.”)
  • An informed suggestion about where a certain kind of research, technique, discourse, or treatment should go next (e.g. “If we want to properly address addictive behavior in our community, we need to better inform the public about the biological and neurological aspects of addiction”)
  • A nuanced response to an inquiry (e.g. “In our efforts to rid our communities of rampant drug abuse and addiction, we must be careful not to escalate the least effective tactics related to the ‘War on Drugs’ in the 1980s and 1990s.”)


  • Thesis – Have you focused your ideas and analysis around a central idea? Is this debatable?
  • Does it add to our understanding of the issues discussed?
  • Argument Development – Are you reading closely and carefully? Have you considered the nuances of the data you’ve tallied? Is your rhetoric persuasive and honest?
  • Evidence – Have you found credible sources? Have you approached each author or organization's position honestly?
  • Organization – Does your argument make logical sense? Are you making use of proper APA guidelines?
  • Style and Grammar – Have you edited your paper carefully to avoid basic structural errors?


Don't feel obligated to choose one of these. They are simply suggestions...

  • The impact of addiction on our health care system – How are health care professionals responding to the opioid crisis? What does the current research indicate about opioid abuse? How can we advocate for evidence-based approaches? Are other pressing issues being neglected due to the rise of opioid abuse? What role does mental health care play in our response to the crisis?
  • Social and environmental factors that lead to addiction – How closely correlated is opioid addiction to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse? To what degree are changes in our society (e.g. deindustrialization, mass incarceration, etc.) amplifying the crisis? Are there other issues (such as depression) that closely correlate with addictive behavior?
  • Data and evidence – Opioid abuse appears to have escalated dramatically in the U.S. over the past fifteen years. What methods are being used to find reliable evidence related to this escalation? Are there dangers of hyperbole? How can we avoid misleading stereotypes associated with this data (i.e. violent crime)? Socio-political responses to the crisis – What should our elected officials, district attorneys, and police officers do in response to the crisis? To what degree should emergency medications like Narcan (Naloxone) be made available? Do we need tougher sentencing laws or do we need to approach drug abuse as a public health concern?
  • The effect of addiction and drug abuse on children – You could also consider the impact of addiction on families more generally.


You are not an expert. I don't expect you to be one, either. Instead, offer an informed opinion. 

Don't be afraid to change your mind during the research process. You are allowed to use the word “I” in your paper. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to make your topic as specific as possible. Make sure you understand a claim before you develop an opinion in response to it. Let your interests guide you. Find something you're excited to learn more about. If you have an idea that doesn't exactly fit our framework, come and talk to me. We'll work something out.


To find sources from peer-reviewed Academic Journals, make use of the resources we have available through the PSU Behrend John M. Lilley Library (among others). Search our databases for essays and articles to support your claims.

Our library's website offers a page devoted to Research Guides, which is located here:

Some databases available through our library website include:

  • PubMed – large, general database for medical texts
  • PsycInfo – good general database for psychological/mental health resources
  • Criminal Justice Abstracts – great for students looking for legal/policy-related perspectives
  • JSTOR – Good for inquiries related to the humanities

If you have chosen several scholarly or peer -reviewed sources, your others can come from a more mainstream source. Consider things like newspapers (Erie Times News, New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) and credible magazines (The Atlantic Monthly, Time, The New Yorker, etc.).

Avoid blog entries, Wikipedia and self-published texts, unless your inquiry makes these sources necessary (i.e. a message board may be appropriate if you're writing about online communities related to addiction). If you are unclear about what constitutes a reputable source, email me or speak to me during class.

If you would like to conduct primary research (i.e. interview someone, conduct a poll, etc.), I'm happy to allow you to do so. Primary research can count as one of your non-scholarly sources, but check in with me before you include it in the paper.