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ETSU’s Pack chaired national task force that released key report on opioid crisis

Contributed • Nov 8, 2019 at 4:25 PM

An expert panel chaired by East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Robert Pack released a new report last week that features dozens of recommendations to address the opioid crisis in the United States.

The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health formed the Task Force on Public Health Initiatives to Address the Opioid Crisis. The task force released its findings and recommendations, titled “Bringing Science to Bear on Opioids,” in conjunction with the publication of a related commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association. The JAMA commentary was authored by Pack, Dr. Cheryl Heaton of New York University College of Global Public Health, and Dr. Sandro Galea of Boston University School of Public Health.

“The charge of the task force was to identify and define evidence-based public health initiatives for opioid use disorder, recognizing that it is going to take a comprehensive, public health-style approach to really begin to mitigate the harms and consequences associated with the opioid crisis,” said Pack, associate dean in ETSU’s College of Public Health and executive director of ETSU’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse and Treatment.

“There have been a lot of lawsuits brought against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, and we are hoping to inform the types of decisions that might be made relative to how resources might be allocated if a settlement or multiple settlements are reached,” Pack said.

Detailing the scope of the opioid epidemic in the United States, the panel’s report notes that more Americans die each year from opioid overdoses than died in any armed conflict since the end of World War II; on average, more than 100 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. Overdose is now the leading cause of unintentional injury death, surpassing motor vehicle deaths.

Experts cited in the new report predict that, without strong efforts to mitigate the problem, the annual number of opioid overdose deaths will reach 82,000 in the year 2025, bringing the total death toll to 700,000 over the 10-year period from 2016-25.

“We have to take this seriously and meet it with aggressive action to mitigate further harm,” Pack said. “It matters because each number represents a person, an individual, a life that was lost. We are working hard in order to honor them.”

The task force advocates an evidence-based approach, recommending that settlement funds (either directly or indirectly) be directed to initiatives supported by published and peer-reviewed scientific research findings.

All recommendations offered by the panel are backed by research cited in the report. The dozens of recommendations have been grouped as follows in the report:

• Recommendations to strengthen the collection of evidence and epidemiological data on all dimensions of the opioid epidemic.

• Initiatives to combat stigma, which the panel found continues to present significant barriers to effective prevention, treatment, and harm reduction efforts.

• Legislative and regulatory changes to ensure access to medications for opioid use disorder.

• Harm reduction initiatives to reduce the impact of opioid use disorder on users, their families, and their communities.

• Efforts to advance primary prevention.

• Research areas that need additional support in order to provide additional evidence for addressing the crisis.

• A major new initiative to advance program evaluation and implementation science to help ensure resources are expended wisely and that patients receive the most effective treatments given their history and situation.

“The opioid crisis is a local, national and global public health issue that touches all levels of society,” Pack said. “The Task Force’s recommendations stress the critical need to reach across sectors and engage all possible resources to address the opioid epidemic and reduce associated harms.”

The ASPPH is the voice of accredited academic public health, representing more than 120 schools and programs accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. An executive summary and the full ASPPH Task Force on Public Health Initiatives to Address the Opioid Crisis report are available at www.aspph.org/opioids.

ETSU’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment partners with affected communities in Central Appalachia to advance the science of substance abuse prevention and treatment. To learn more, visit www.etsu.edu/cph/pdam.

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