East Tennessee State University recently announced its establishment of a new, interprofessional research center at the institution that will focus on one of the most significant health issues plaguing both the region and much of the nation.
“Prescription drug abuse is a national epidemic and our region has been hit very hard by it,” said Dr. Robert Pack, associate dean in the ETSU College of Public Health. “The United States consumes twice as many opioids per capita than the next closest nation. Among leading states, after Alabama, Tennessee is a close second for opioids consumed per person. And within our state, East Tennessee is easily the region with the greatest opioid consumption.”
Earlier this year, Pack, along with Dr. Nick Hagemeier, an assistant professor in the Gatton College of Pharmacy at ETSU, and Angie Hagaman, program director of the Diversity-promoting Institutions Drug Abuse Research Program (DIDARP) federal grant in ETSU’s College of Public Health, submitted a proposal to the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) to create a center that will facilitate a multi-level approach to addressing the prescription drug abuse problem in Appalachia. Last month, ETSU received word that the TBR had approved the proposal.
The establishment of the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment will expand upon prescription drug abuse prevention efforts that have been ongoing at the university for more than four years, and will be built upon a long track record of community-based substance abuse work at the university.
In 2012, a group of ETSU scholars, health professionals, elected officials and other interested parties came together to discuss the dramatic increase in prescription drug abuse and drug overdose death rates in the Appalachian region.
As a result, the Prescription Drug Abuse/Misuse (PDAM) Working Group was formed. The group collaborated to generate a National Institute of Drug Abuse proposal that culminated in the five-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. That project has fostered multiple community outreach, research and educational activities over the past four years. The PDAM Working Group continues to meet monthly.
“The creation of the center will allow us to leverage and organize campus research efforts for maximum impact against the prescription drug abuse epidemic,” Hagaman said. “Through the center, we plan to identify, implement and evaluate evidence-based practices for prevention and treatment of prescription drug abuse in the region.”
The trio also hopes the center will strengthen collaborative partnerships, both on and off campus, with the aim of identifying and answering research questions of regional and national importance.
“Ultimately, it is about being a resource for the community and region,” Hagemeier said. “We aim to be the hub for the region as far as prescription drug abuse research, education and outreach are concerned. We want to have a positive impact on Central Appalachia and the nation as a whole. We are uniquely positioned to do just that.”
Next steps for the center include inviting collaborators to become members as well as seeking additional funding to bolster center infrastructure.