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ETSU College of Public Health studying heroin use in Central Appalachia

Contributed • Mar 22, 2019 at 4:16 PM

Researchers at East Tennessee State University are using group and one-on-one interviews to identify factors influencing fentanyl-related overdose risk in Central Appalachian heroin user communities.

Dr. Bill Brooks, assistant professor in ETSU’s College of Public Health, has received a Major Grant award from the university’s Research Development Committee to conduct the research.

Brooks is principal investigator and Dr. Faustine Williams, of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities/National Institutes of Health, is co-investigator for the grant. They are working in partnership with the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment to launch the qualitative study of individuals in recovery for heroin use at Overmountain Recovery Clinic.

“This study is a community-based effort to identify ways of better serving the hidden, vulnerable and stigmatized populations of Appalachia who are most affected by the opioid crisis,” Brooks said. “I am so appreciative for the university’s support in doing this important work.”

Targeted prevention efforts have effectively lowered illicit use of prescribed opioids in the United States over the past eight years; however, heroin-associated overdose mortality has tripled during the same period. Driving this dramatic spike in mortality is the spread of fentanyl-adulterated or substituted heroin, which carries a potency 50 to 100 times higher than heroin alone.

The results of this qualitative study will be used in the creation of a dynamic model of fentanyl-related overdose risk to be applied in subsequent studies aimed at developing, implementing and evaluating culturally relevant interventions to prevent these types of overdoses in the region.

Sam Pettyjohn, a doctoral student in the College of Public Health, and Stephanie Mathis of the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment will also be a part of this project.

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