ETSU is located in one of the nation’s most prominent hot spots for the abuse of prescription opioids, or painkillers.

“We live in the worst part of the second worst state in the worst country, in the world, as far as prescription opioids,” said Dr. Nicholas Hagemeier, a doctor of pharmacy and philosophy and an assistant professor at the Gatton College of Pharmacy at ETSU.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that all opioids are bad, they serve a good purpose and they help a lot of people.”

Hagemeier said prescription opioid abuse is a complex situation because medical professionals want to treat pain appropriately, but they also want to avoid enabling addiction and abuse.

“I am a pharmacist, so I see it from the pharmacist side and you just kind of feel stuck,” Hagemeier said. “You are supposed to do no harm, in any profession, but I would argue that in some situations that we are.

“And it may not be on purpose, but I think it’s hard to figure out when you’re hurting someone or you’re helping someone.”

Hagemeier said depending on the study people look at, there is opioid abuse for non-medical use in the general college population.

“We are actually getting more into looking at stimulant misuse on college campuses and we actually submitted for a grant to try to develop a web based intervention which is targeted at college students that would hopefully turn down prescription stimulant misuse,” Hagemeier said.

“A proposal was submitted to the NIH [National Institute of Health], but the chance of us getting it is a long shot.”

Hagemeier said the program would help students with dependence issues and addiction issues, which would help direct them to appropriate resources.

Hagemeier said people are incorrect when they believe prescription drugs are safe.

In actuality, prescription opioids are kind of cousins to heroin.

“Prescription opioids are about the same sort of drug,” Hagemeier said.

“So, they’re dangerous because when used in high doses it can cause respiratory depression, which then causes death.”

Even if the program doesn’t launch, there is a safe place on campus for students to seek help.

“As far as ETSU, I think the counseling center is a great source, I think if I were telling college students on campus where to go, that is the first place I would direct them,” Hagemeier said.

“It’s a resource, and it’s good to talk to somebody, and if they feel like you need help or treatment for addiction then they can help facilitate you getting that help.”

Hagemeier said if you take away all the supply and you still have the demand, people aren’t just going to quit, addiction doesn’t work that way, so an option is to go to heroin.

“You have to address supply, potential demand and demand because it’s getting harder to find prescription opioids on the street,” Hagemeier said.

“So if we don’t help people get help, then the chance of heroin rising increases.

“We are seeing prescription opioid deaths going down and heroin going up, so you have to address all sides of this triangle. If you just address supply, I think we’ve got a mess on our hands with heroin.”