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UT Wins HRSA Funding for Rural Consortium to Fight Region’s Opioid Epidemic

UT has received a $200,000 grant to build an East Tennessee consortium to support treatment for and prevention of opioid use disorder in 10 rural East Tennessee counties with the highest risk for substance use disorder.

The grant comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, which announced the 2018 Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Planning (RCORP) competition this summer. The planning grant provides funding for one year to cultivate strong county, state, and regional-level partnerships and will incorporate workforce recruitment and retention needs as well as efforts around planning and capacity-building activities.

Kimberly Eck, director of the Office of Research and Engagement’s Research Development Team (RDT), said the planning grant is likely a precursor to a larger, multi-year funding opportunity, for which UT will now be well-positioned to compete.

Sharon Davis, clinical assistant professor in UT’s College of Nursing, led the successful proposal team with support from the RDT.

“The quick turnaround time on this proposal was challenging,” Eck said. Drawing upon her previous experience with HRSA, Eck worked closely with Davis to drive the brainstorming and content creation and to keep the proposal development on schedule. Eck’s team gathered more than 50 letters of commitment from community organizations throughout East Tennessee.

The quick proposal response was enabled by the RDT-sponsored series of events known as SPARKS (Seeking Partnerships and Research Knowledge for Science), which promotes faculty collaborations around subjects of shared interest and recently focused on East Tennessee’s opioid epidemic.

“The level of expertise among the collaborating faculty along with the outstanding leadership from ORE made me confident that we would not only meet an extremely tight deadline, but we would have a very strong proposal to submit,” said Davis.

According to a study by the US Centers for Disease Control, Tennessee ranks 13th in the nation for opioid overdoses, with a 138 percent increase over the past 10 years. In 2015, health care providers wrote 118.3 prescriptions per 100 people, making the state the third highest prescriber of opioids.

“This epidemic has had a staggering impact on infants, children, adolescents, adults, families, communities, and professional workforces such as healthcare, the judicial system, and law enforcement,” said Davis. “It is very exciting to have the opportunity to collaborate with our community partners in the hope of changing lives.”

Davis’ team included:

  • Laurie Meschke, associate professor of public health
  • Soghra Jarvandi, assistant professor of public health for UT-Extension
  • Jenny Crowley, assistant professor of communication studies
  • Sissie Hadjiharalambous, assistant director of the Social Work Office of Research and Public Service (SWORPS)
  • Sadie Hutson, assistant dean of graduate studies in the College of Nursing
  • Pamela Hardesty, clinical associate professor of nursing
  • Nan Gaylord, professor of nursing
  • Beth Foster, professor of public relations

Consortium members include federally qualified health centers, county health professionals, law enforcement, regional medical examiners, judicial system professionals, drug coalitions, emergency medical providers, mental health providers, OUD treatment providers, poison control, UT Extension Offices, regional homeless coalitions, payers, and caregivers/patients.

The RCORP-ET service area includes 10 rural East Tennessee counties that have been identified by the Center for Disease Control as being at risk for HIV and hepatitis C infections. These rural counties—Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Morgan, Roane, Scott, and Union —are home to more than 360,000 people.


Sharon Pound (865-974-1475,