Drug abuse is a problem that many people face, but one main cause of this may be how easy it is to get prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With a late January executive order by Governor Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Commission on Pain and Addiction Medicine Education was created to improve medical education and lessen the current opioid epidemic. Three representatives for the commission are from ETSU.

“That’s a pretty significant number,” Vice President for Health Affairs Wilsie Bishop said. “They’re being asked to use their expertise in education in their respective disciplines to make recommendations for the entire state and looking at curriculum that educates health professionals.”

Representatives are Dean of Quillen College of Medicine Robert Means, Dean of the College of Nursing Wendy Nehring and Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy professor Sarah Melton. They are part of the 19-member commission representing medical schools across the state. The new commission’s focus is on treatment, prevention and law enforcement to end this epidemic. Bishop said the most important step is education for future medical professionals.

“This commission is really going to focus on changing educational structure,” Bishop said. “I also think the reason we have three people on the commission is [Haslam’s] really focusing on what can be done to help health profession educators so that curriculum within these health professions address the concerns of prescribing, of treatment and the epidemic itself.”

She said this applies to nurse practitioners, doctors and pharmacists especially because they are the ones prescribing and filling these medications.

At 4.4 percent, college-age adults reported the most uses of nonmedical prescription drugs, according to results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Haslam’s office also reports prescription drug abuse is at “epidemic” rates in Tennessee.

On ETSU’s campus, there are several drug abuse prevention initiatives including Generation Rx advised by commission member Sarah Melton and the Count it! Lock it! Drop it! campaign by the counseling center.

The commission has its first meeting Feb. 22 in Nashville at the capitol building. Commission representative Nehring said she has been collecting information already for the commission, most recently during a national conference in Colorado.

“It’s specific to nursing, but I do have that as a reference point,” she said.

Nehring said that while registered nurses and pharmacists may not be able to prescribe medicine as doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can prescribe, they need to know signs of prescription drug abuse.

Haslam has set aside $25 million to allocate toward different initiatives for treatment and recovery of opioid abusers, including the new committee.

“I do think the product that we come up with will be a model for the country,” Nehring said. “I hope that there is good effort by all the disciplines represented to come up with something useful.”