Striving for an addiction-free Tennessee

Twlug–ASP 2015 Second Runner-Up

Tien Ngo (center) and Bethany Leachman worked with the Brentwood Police Department to promote medication safety in the Greater Nashville area during the 2015 DEA Drug Take Back Day.

Like many areas in the country, the state of Tennessee is ravaged by an epidemic of prescription drug abuse and addiction. Families are being torn apart, children are becoming orphans, and mothers are giving birth to infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome. It is an overwhelming, heart-breaking issue and that is why we at The University of Tennessee (UT) Health Science Center College of Pharmacy believe that passion, compassion, and collaboration are absolutely imperative in order for any Generation Rx committee to be successful in the fight against prescription drug abuse and misuse.

It all starts with passion

As with any successful patient care committee, the chairs, vice chairs, and members must start with a passion to help the people suffering from a particular disease state. Think about it: can you imagine someone trying to make their committee successful when they don’t even care about the people they are trying to help? 

In our case, we chose our chairs because they all understood that addicts and people abusing prescription drugs are not inherently bad people—they just made bad life choices and need help. It is with this understanding and a burning desire to help stop this epidemic that we set out at the beginning of 2015 to make a difference. Since law enforcement and the Tennessee Department of Child Services are usually the first to discover the victims of drug abuse in our area, we developed a new prescription drug abuse program in collaboration with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. 

The goal of this program was to educate social workers and law enforcement about the specific drug abuse trends in Tennessee and how to recognize different signs of overdose so that they could have some insight on what was necessary to save that patient’s life. After the program received approval from our advisors, we took it to the Tennessee Pharmacists Association (TPA) and the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

After a discussion with TPA Executive Director Micah Cost, PharmD, and State Rep. Roger Kane, we received letters of support from both agencies. Since then, we have taught this program as a continuing education credit for the East Tennessee Department of Child Services and we will continue to offer this course on a biannual basis.

See a need, fill a need

If you look on the Tennessee state flag, there are three white stars in a circle of blue. The stars represent the west, middle, and east Tennessee grand divisions, and each division in our state has a unique culture as well as unique health problems and prescription drug abuse trends. Our Generation Rx program is also unique in that we have a campus in each division.

Our Memphis campus served the needs of west Tennessee by holding events at the local library and schools. We also participated in a refugee health fair and held awareness events for students at Rhodes College. The Nashville campus jumped at the opportunity to serve middle Tennessee by participating in the Spring Hill Pay It Forward Festival and the WSMV Healthy for Life Expo. This was an opportunity for us to serve our community in a public spotlight while also being a great public relations opportunity, given Nashville is a new campus. We also held several events at local high schools and libraries. Our Knoxville campus served east Tennessee by holding several events at the undergraduate UT campus, local community fairs, and local schools. We also conducted a radio interview for the East Tennessee Report and taught the continuing education credit for the Department of Child Services. 

Back on our state flag, the circle of blue surrounding the stars symbolizes the unity of the divisions into one state. Our Generation Rx Committee may be spread geographically, but we operate as one and demonstrate this by holding a FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) Walk for Food Allergy Awareness on multiple campuses and DEA Drug Take Back Days on all three campuses.

Some advice we have for other chapters striving for success is that you must remember that you are not in this alone. There are always other chapters, other agencies, and other professions that want to fill the same need as you, and our committee would not have been able to achieve all the things we did without outside help.