The University of Tennessee is making opioid research and awareness a system-wide priority. The commitment came during the annual "state of UT" address this week.
"It’s exactly the kind of challenge that land-grant, research universities are made to take on," UT President Joe DiPietro said during his speech. "And it’s a problem of such complexity and consequence, it will require all we can do to overcome it."
The UT Health Science Center in Memphis is developing a new program to help doctors-in-training recognize addiction, as well as teaching safe prescribing to practicing physicians across the state.
The university will also take a less conventional approach, employing county extension agents. UT has offices in all 95 counties.
Extension agent Katelyn Barker, who spends a quarter of her time working with Gibson County farmers and most of her time in schools, said she's already been talking more about opioids as part of her health presentation to elementary-age students.
"Especially, when we're talking about fentanyl and drugs like that and we tell them a grain of fentanyl — the size of a grain of sugar — can kill you. Pretty much from that point forward, we have their attention," she said.
Barker says kids seem to know a little about opioids, but not how dangerous they are. She admits being cautious, though, not to give kids ideas about raiding the medicine cabinets of family members.