COOKEVILLE, TN - Tennessee Tech University is taking aim at substance misuse and addiction, a crisis that has acutely impacted the Volunteer State, through a recently awarded $1.8 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The grant will be used to establish the Tennessee Tech Center for Addiction Prevention, Research, and Support. Tech faculty members working on the project say the forthcoming center will provide support for substance misuse coalitions in the Upper Cumberland while also serving students who are in active recovery.
The effort is led by Steven Seiler, professor and social worker in Tech’s Department of Sociology and Political Science, and Elizabeth Ramsey, assistant professor and Certified Family Life Educator in Tech’s School of Human Ecology, where the eventual center will be housed.
“It seems like a natural fit, with our trauma-informed care certificate and students passionate about helping people – and a very supportive dean and director,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey and Seiler say the grant is a byproduct of a collaborative vision that began with one of Seiler’s students around seven years ago under then-Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Burnett.
“I had a student who was in active recovery and passionate about helping others struggling with addiction. He inspired me to get involved,” said Seiler. “We just sat down and started having a conversation about what we could do.”
“We brought in prevention experts in our community, Bill Gibson and staff at Power of Putnam, to help us build a plan,” continued Seiler. “Since then, we’ve strengthened our partnership with Power of Putnam and established many other partnerships across the Upper Cumberland, throughout the state, and nationwide. This award was confirmation we’re doing great things in our region – and it ensures there will be more to come.”
The center’s name is a nod to its three main areas of focus: prevention, research and support. Seiler and Ramsey say their prevention efforts will focus on engaging young adults enrolled at Tech and those across Putnam County. The center envisions a substance use prevention campaign that partners with local bars, night clubs, restaurants and other stakeholders.
The center’s research component will tap into the university’s broad research infrastructure to assist substance misuse prevention coalitions and other nonprofits across the Upper Cumberland with their research needs so they can tailor their programming to be most effective.
“We have quite a few substance misuse prevention coalitions in the Upper Cumberland,” said Seiler. “The research piece is intended to provide support for our coalitions in the region to help bolster the good work they’re already doing and even help them seek grant funding for new avenues of engaging their communities and building prevention strategies unique to their communities.”
Finally, the center’s support component will focus on building a “collegiate recovery community” for students in active recovery from substance misuse or addiction and providing support groups for local pregnant women in active recovery from a substance use disorder.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that Tennessee ranks third in the country for prescription drug abuse, while research from Kaiser Family Foundation shows the drug overdose death rate in Tennessee outpaced the national average every year over the span of a decade – findings that Seiler and Ramsey say compel Tech to take on a leadership role in this effort.
“We’re honored we have this opportunity to work, in a much deeper way, with our community,” Ramsey added. “I have worked a lot with adverse childhood experiences and trauma, and my heart is really for prevention. So just thinking about what this grant will mean for our community is so exciting.”
Seiler and Ramsey add that the center is a “deeply interdisciplinary effort” involving the Counseling Center, the College of Education, Student Affairs and other areas of campus, in addition to their own colleges and departments. Such interdisciplinary collaborations at Tech and beyond, they say, make the university’s work all the more impactful and relevant to societal challenges.