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ETSU officials seeking $500,000 in state funding for prescription drug abuse research

Zach Vance • Mar 31, 2018 at 11:30 PM

An East Tennessee lawmaker is trying to get more research funding for East Tennessee State University’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment and Prevention.

ETSU graduate Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, filed an amendment to the appropriations bill requesting $500,000 from the state “for the sole purpose of funding to support research for the center to help combat the opioid epidemic in the region and state.”

On Thursday, ETSU President Brian Noland said if the funding was approved, none would be used for Overmountain Recovery, the controversial Gray methadone clinic jointly operated by the university and Ballad Health.

“This is not funding for Overmountain. I can’t say that more clearly,” Noland said. “This is funding to support the research operations of our Center of Excellence.”

Last year, Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, filed an identical request for $500,000 to support the Center, an interprofessional research center established in 2016 to study prevention, treatment and outreach approaches.

“This was a request that was made last year. It tracked all the way forward very favorably until the closing days of the session, and then things moved in a different direction. So we carried forward the request again this year,” Noland said. 

Noland said the one-time funding would permit the Center to hire more research faculty.

“These resources, if made available, would allow us to bring faculty to bear to conduct activities across that full spectrum,” the university president said.

Attached to the funding request was a brief report stating, “Why should we vote to support funding for internal capacity development for the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment?”

In addition to growing internal capacity, the report states the $500,000 would help implement high-impact opioid prevention and treatment practices and measure the effort of their effort utilizing evaluation resources and surveillance data.

“This funding will allow the Center and their community partners to scale up prevention and treatment interventions for the workforce, health professionals, community members and youth,” the report says.

So far, the Center and its predecessor, an interdisciplinary “working group,” have had nine grant proposals funded to the tune of $2.4 million, and 13 peer-reviewed journal articles published in less than five years. The Center’s faculty has been invited to conduct 75-plus educational presentations across the state and nation, the report states.

Robert Pack, executive director of the Center, has been invited to share his knowledge during Congressional briefings on the subject, while the U.S. Surgeon General recently visited ETSU to discuss its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

“He came to learn about the things we’re doing at ETSU to combat the epidemic, and our front-and-center efforts are the research-led faculty, such as Sarah Melton, Rob Pack, Nick Hagemeier and the individuals who comprise that Center of Excellence,” Noland said.

“I think the region should be very proud to know its university is playing a central role to try to help address a population health epidemic that’s front and center in our region.

“I’ll tell you what’s fascinating is we’ve had other government entities reach out to us and say how did you all do what you’re doing, and would you have any interest in looking at this in any other areas?”

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