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ETSU receives national recognition for work fighing regional opioid epidemic

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Apr 16, 2018 at 5:45 PM

In the midst of the opioid crisis that has hit Northeast Tennessee hard, there has been an increasing sense of urgency in recent years among officials at East Tennessee State University to promote efforts to battle the epidemic.

ETSU was recognized by the U.S. Public Health Service and Interprofessional Education Collaborative with the 2018 Public Health Excellence in Interprofessional Education Collaboration award earlier this month for the institution’s “innovative approach to community and public health practice.”

Since 2012, the university’s efforts in battling the epidemic have been primarily coordinated by the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, in collaboration with the university’s interdisciplinary, community-based Prescription Drug Abuse Working Group. Over the years, this program has grown to over 250 members, according to campus officials.

And after all of the hard work, it’s nice to get national recognition, officials say.

“This award goes a long way in reinforcing the value in our work and its significance across the country,” said Dr. Robert Pack, the center’s executive director and a faculty member and associate dean in ETSU’s College of Public Health.

The center’s projects also include state, federal and foundation grant awards, promoting more than 75 invited educational presentations across the nation and state and a growing list of peer-reviewed research articles.

Last year, the university entered into a nonprofit clinical partnership with Ballad Health to deliver comprehensive medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction in the region with Overmountain Recovery. Frontier Health has also served as a key partner with the clinic, providing counseling services to clients.

When the center’s team attended the Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit earlier this month, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams specifically mentioned Johnson City as a place that’s beginning to take an increasingly multi-disciplinary approach to the opioid epidemic, according to Research Director Dr. Nick Hagemeier.

“Surgeon General Adams mentioned Johnson City three times in his speech,” he said. “Sometimes, you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, so getting this type of recognition is good for the soul.

“I think it reaffirms that we’re on the right track.”

ETSU project members will be recognized again by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative Council in June at the Association of American Medical Colleges Learning Center in Washington, D.C.

“We’re very grateful for the award and recognition, and I think it reflects on the fact that we keep doing work that is interprofessional,” Pack said. “If you don’t work with colleagues in other professions, you aren’t doing the best work you could be doing.”

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