New Approach to Combat Opioid Crisis in Rural Tennessee

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UT Extension to Lead Pilot Program 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee Extension will lead a new effort to combat the opioid crisis in rural Tennessee. PROMPT TN (Preventing Rural Opioid Misuse Through Partnerships and Training) will combine the expertise of multiple institutions to develop opioid-specific resources designed to increase understanding of underlying causes of opioid misuse with the goal of preventing addiction.

With a grant of more than $324,000 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, faculty from UT Extension, Tennessee State University and the East Tennessee State University Addiction Science Center will pilot the PROMPT TN program. While existing programs address recognizing and preventing overdose and addiction treatment, PROMPT TN will focus on developing opioid-specific resources designed to increase understanding of the crisis’s current underlying causes as well as work to prevent future addiction.

The opioid epidemic that is ravaging the nation is carving a particularly destructive path in rural communities in Tennessee, which has the third-highest per capita rate of opioid painkiller prescriptions in the country. In 2017, 94 prescriptions existed for every 100 people—one and a half times greater than the national average. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 25 of the state’s 51 rural counties as being in the top 5 percent of U.S. counties vulnerable to rapid spread of HIV and hepatitis C, diseases that are often associated with illicit drug use.

With a long history of serving Tennessee’s rural communities, UT Extension will lead the project and join forces with the partnering institutions in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Health.  

“The opioid crisis is unraveling the fabric of rural communities,” said Lisa Washburn, project leader and associate professor and UT Extension community health specialist in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “UT Extension is uniquely equipped to address this issue, as mobilizing communities to form local solutions is what we do. Joining forces with our state and local partners, we expect this project will have a positive effect on this pressing need.”

PROMPT TN will use an innovative approach to address the opioid crisis. The project will work to enhance the ability of Extension educators, public health professionals and community members to address the opioid epidemic through training that addresses the complexities involved. Customizable templates will be developed for use in local efforts, and a resource hub will be established.

Next, faculty involved in PROMPT TN will identify factors that increase the risk of opioid misuse and abuse, as well as estimate the economic impacts. “Opioid use and abuse have a profound effect on workforce productivity and availability which, in addition to increased hospitalization and emergency care costs, burden local economies of rural communities that are already struggling,” said Sreedhar Upendram, assistant professor with the UT Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Lastly, the PROMPT TN project will help communities implement tested prevention programs that decrease risk factors such as community norms favoring drug use and low school commitment, while increasing protective factors such as strong family and neighborhood bonds and opportunities for prosocial behavior.

Additional support for the two-year project will be provided by the Center for Communities That Care, an outreach effort of the Social Development Research Group within the School of Social Work at the University of Washington.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

Media Contact

Lisa Washburn

Department of Family and Consumer Sciences

Sreedhar Upendram

Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics