The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced that East Tennessee State University’s Dr. Robert Pack is one of 24 individuals who will serve on a newly formed Substance Abuse Advisory Council (SAAC).
Pack, associate dean for Academic Affairs and professor of Community and Behavioral Health in ETSU’s College of Public Health, met with the new advisory council for its first working meeting, held May 15-16 in Knoxville.
The volunteer advisory group of leaders from law enforcement, recovery services, health, economic development, private industry, education, state government and other sectors will develop recommendations for ARC to consider as part of a strategic plan to build and strengthen recovery ecosystems in Appalachian communities by drawing on their own experiences, as well as community insight gathered during ARC’s six recent Regional Recovery-to-Work Listening Sessions.
Members of ARC’s Substance Abuse Advisory Council were selected in partnership with the governor’s offices of their respective states.
“It is an honor to serve alongside these individuals from throughout Appalachia to work together toward solutions for our communities,” said Pack, who also serves as the executive director of ETSU’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse and Treatment and chair of ETSU’s Prescription Drug Abuse/Misuse Working Group.
Pack has focused his research on the opioid crisis, most recently working on a grant partnership with ETSU and Virginia Tech to establish the Opioids Research Consortium of Central Appalachia (ORCA). He also has testified before the Tennessee Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee regarding prescription drug abuse and the potential impact of pain clinic regulations on the problem. In 2017, he was invited to brief the U.S. Congress as part of a panel of Appalachian experts on substance abuse.
According to “Opioids in Appalachia: The Role of Counties in Reversing a Regional Epidemic,” a new report by the National Association of Counties (NaCO) and ARC, the 2017 death rate for opioid overdoses in Appalachian counties was an astounding 72% higher than non-Appalachian counties.
“In addition to the tragic toll of lives lost, substance abuse is increasingly becoming an economic and workforce issue in our region,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “I appreciate the willingness of these knowledgeable and experienced leaders from throughout the region who have come together to help ARC develop strategies to support Appalachian communities. By focusing on the recovery ecosystem, which supports those in long-term recovery as they move back to the workforce, the Substance Abuse Advisory Council will be addressing an important piece of the overarching effort to combat substance use disorder in our region.”