Fellow receives grant to study prescription drug abuse

JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 15, 2016) – A $40,000 grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents is helping one East Tennessee State University fellow continue his long-standing interest in studying prescription drug abuse.

Dr. Rajkumar Sevak, one of two inaugural fellows at the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at East Tennessee State University, was awarded the TBR grant to conduct research related to prescription stimulant misuse on college campuses.

“I’ve always been fascinated about why people take prescription stimulants non-medically,” said Sevak, who has conducted research on the topic in the past through his work as a faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles. “There is a safety halo around these drugs. People think they are safe because they are FDA-approved and because they aren’t illegal street drugs.”

That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth, Sevak explained, noting that the misuse of prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin can be just as dangerous as the use of illicit drugs such as methamphetamine. In fact, the easy accessibility to prescription drugs and the misconception that they are safe to misuse can make them even more dangerous, Sevak added.

“I hope this research will throw a larger light on this,” he said.

The project will include an electronic survey of students at approximately a dozen community colleges in Tennessee. The aim of the survey is to determine the prevalence of non-medical use of prescription stimulants on campuses as well as to identify risk factors for the misuse and specific areas where interventions for reducing the misuse can be developed.

“The scientific information we obtain is very valuable. We want to understand the problem and what factors influence the drug taking,” Sevak said. “Once we know that, a specific intervention can be designed. That is the long-range goal of this research – the development of effective interventions that prevent and attenuate non-medical use of prescription stimulants among college students.”

Several ETSU faculty members are working with Sevak on the project, including Dr. Nick Hagemeier from the pharmacy school, Drs. Arsham Alamian and Robert Pack from the College of Public Health and Dr. Kelly Foster in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sevak was one of three ETSU faculty members to receive research grants from the TBR for the 2015-16 academic year, with a total of just seven awarded across the state.

Dr. Kenneth Silver, an associate professor on the ETSU College of Public Health, received a $40,000 grant for his project, “Train the Leaders: Guided Development, presentation and evaluation for a pesticide training curriculum by Latino Youth.”

Dr. Tina Hudson, an assistant professor in the Claudius G. Clemmer College of Education, received a grant to conduct a research project that provides elementary school teachers with best practice methods and other professional development activities that focus on writing instruction.