JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – East Tennessee State University is taking a big step in the fight against the growing prescription drug abuse problem in East Tennessee. On Wednesday, the university announced the new ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, located on campus.
Tennessee is the second most opioid-consuming state in 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 and director of the new center. “Within our state, East Tennessee is easily the region with the greatest opioid consumption.”
The Tennessee Board of Regents approved ETSU’s proposal last month to create the inter-professional research center that will address the prescription drug abuse problem using a multi-level approach. It center will expand upon prescription drug abuse prevention efforts that have been on-going at ETSU for more than four years.
“I can think of few challenges that are more critical than the one that this center will be addressing,” said ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland. “It puts East Tennessee State University clearly in a position to make a difference from an education perspective, a research perspective and an intervention perspective.”
“The creation of the center will allow us to leverage and organize campus research efforts for maximum impact against the prescription drug abuse epidemic,” said Angie Hagaman, program director of the Diversity-Promoting Institutions Drug Abuse Research Program (DIDARP). “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 center also hopes to provide treatment to people one day. “Be it methadone, be it suboxone or other treatment options I think those are things that we’ll explore as this center evolves,” Dr. Noland said. Dr. Noland previously spoke out against a methadone clinic that was trying to locate in Johnson City, saying non-profit methadone options are more consistent with the university’s vision. In a February interview with News Channel 11, he said, “It became clear to me that for-profit centers such as Crossroads are more interested in profit generation than they are in patient well-being.”
The center has not made a decision on whether or not methadone would be a treatment method used, but Dr. Pack did not dismiss it. “Methadone is very effective for keeping people engaged with treatment. Methadone is very controversial though and it’s a very complicated topic…Our center is really actively engaged with trying to discover and use the very best evidence-based approaches really in concert, or simultaneously to push back against the wave of this problem.”
Dr. Pack said the center is exploring the relationship with other clinical care providers to provide treatment but in the meantime, it has several active research and training grants. “We have a large NIH (National Institutes of Health) grant, for example, grants from the state to do training for naloxone. We’ve got a current active grant on simulant risk reduction among community college students.”
The next steps for the center include inviting collaborators to become members as well as seeking additional funding for staffing.
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