JOHNSON CITY – A faculty member at East Tennessee State University is among a handful of public health experts to take part in a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this week.
Dr. Robert Pack, associate dean for Academic Affairs in ETSU’s College of Public Health, joined leaders from public health schools in four other states in the Appalachian region to discuss with members of the U.S. Congress the complex and dynamic processes at work in the opioid crisis. Pack joined his colleagues in sharing findings on unique approaches to address the course of the epidemic as well as discuss how university-based public health experts are assisting affected communities by bringing traditional and novel epidemic control strategies to bear on the disease.
“Tragically, the epidemic has now reached a point where overdose is the leading cause of death for people younger than 50,” Pack said. “The overdose death numbers continue to rise across the nation. Dr. Don Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, has shown mathematically that the increase in overdose has, in fact, been exponential. The U.S. has lost 300,000 people to overdose in the past 15 years and he forecasts that the U.S. will lose 300,000 more in the next five years unless we do something drastically different. All of the states that were represented at the briefing, including Tennessee, have overdose rates higher than the national average.”
Pack is leading ETSU’s efforts to prevent and treat opioid addiction. He is the executive director of the university’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, a center of excellence established last spring through the Tennessee Board of Regents. The center’s mission focuses on education, research and outreach in an effort to facilitate a multi-level approach to addressing the prescription drug abuse problem in Appalachia.
The creation of the center has expanded the university’s years-long work in prescription drug abuse prevention, building upon a long track record of community-based substance abuse work at the institution.
The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health convened the June 19 discussion on Capitol Hill. Approximately 170 people attended the standing-room-only event, including Congressional staffers, health care representatives and health insurance representatives. (ASPPH Press Release)
“The briefing was very well received, and we’ve heard follow-up requests for information and data,” Pack said. “I’m hopeful that we were able to raise awareness and inform some key stakeholders, our elected officials, about our efforts to fight against the problem. We are in great need of their support.”
Others speaking as part of the briefing panel included College of Public Health deans from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Kentucky, West Virginia University and The Ohio State University.
A link to the presentation is available here.