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ETSU Generation Rx chapter earns second-place national award

JOHNSON CITY (April 11, 2013) – It didn’t take long for the Generation Rx organization at East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy to make its mark from coast to coast. Less than a year after it formed, the ETSU team has been recognized with an award as the second-place national chapter.

The award was announced at the recent annual meeting of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP). When ETSU students in attendance heard their Generation Rx chapter was ranked second in the nation, it created a minor shockwave.

“When I heard our college’s name, I started shaking; my whole body was shaking so badly that I couldn’t text Dr. Melton to tell her,” said third-year student pharmacist Chris Lopez, referring to Dr. Sarah Melton, an ETSU associate professor of Pharmacy Practice and the group’s faculty advisor.

The awards application cycle ran the 2012 calendar year, but it wasn’t until May that ETSU formed a chapter of this national organization that targets prescription drug abuse through public education. The Generation Rx Initiative was founded at The Ohio State University and is supported by the Cardinal Health Foundation.

Despite the late start, ETSU students made the most of their time. They delivered over 25 public presentations on prescription drug abuse, reaching more than 2,000 people. Drawing on student input from all five colleges in the ETSU Academic Health Sciences Center, the team developed a “provider’s tool kit” which includes information and resources that health care professionals can use to become educated on prescription drug abuse and prevention. The Gatton College of Pharmacy also became the first school in the nation to develop a “Girl Scouts Rx Awareness Badge” workshop that drew dozens of Scouts to the college to learn about prescription drug abuse.

Jacob Peters, a second-year student pharmacist and chairman of ETSU Generation Rx, was among the students at the APhA-ASP meeting.

 “It was encouraging that we were able to do so much in such a short time,” Peters said. “We’ve had tremendous support from the faculty and staff, from all the students and Dean (Larry) Calhoun.”

Peters said the chapter, which has approximately 40 student members, is one that can be especially beneficial in a region that has high rates of prescription drug abuse.

 “I grew up in Elizabethton. My whole life has been in this area,” Peters said. “I’ve seen the toll that prescription drug abuse can take on families and communities. At some of our public presentations, people would come up afterward and say that the presentation had convinced them to make changes in their lives, or it gave them something to take back and talk to friends and family about.”

For Lopez, Generation Rx is another step in a personal mission that began when he enrolled in pharmacy school. When Lopez was 15 his mother passed away, a victim of prescription drug addiction.

“My mother passing away,” Lopez said, “is the reason I wanted to become a pharmacist.”

While at a national conference in late 2011, Lopez and two other ETSU pharmacy students, Loren Kirk and Les Louden, learned about the Generation Rx Initiative. They returned to Johnson City intent on bringing the initiative home. The students sought the help of Melton, who is a recognized authority on prescription drug abuse, and she became the chapter’s faculty advisor before she even officially joined the ETSU faculty.

Lopez, in particular, was moved to make Generation Rx meaningful.

He decided to begin sharing the story of his mother at public presentations. She had died on Dec. 2, 2004, when he was a high school sophomore.

“I had never told anybody outside my family what truly happened with my mom, until Generation Rx,” said Lopez, a native of Morristown. “More or less, I was so embarrassed by it.”

But after becoming more educated about drug abuse, Lopez reached a keener understanding.

“I didn’t know addiction was a disease; I thought it was just a weakness,” Lopez said. “I made it a goal that I wanted to do something to help other families. It’s really through the grace of God and the intervention by all kinds of friends and everyone at our college that we had the opportunity to make such a difference with this organization.”

Melton, Peters and Lopez recently delivered a presentation on ETSU Generation Rx at the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Fla.

ETSU Generation Rx is online at http://gattoncopgenerationrx.weebly.com/index.html and is on Facebook.