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A hot-button topic in the health care community is how to combat the rising number of painkiller prescriptions written in the United States, especially in the South.

The Neuroscience Network of East Tennessee (NeuroNET) Research Center at UT will look at this complex issue at its Spring Symposium April 8 and 9 in the Toyota Auditorium of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

“Chronic pain is a major health problem in the United States that is increasing in prevalence at a dramatic pace. Likewise, the use and abuse of opioids is skyrocketing,” said NeuroNET Director Rebecca Prosser. “This is especially relevant to our community, given that Tennessee is ranked second in the overall number of prescriptions for painkillers.

“This two-day symposium brings together leading national and local researchers and physicians to discuss two questions regarding this complex problem: What are the neural mechanisms underlying chronic pain and opiate analgesia? And what are the physiological and psychological factors contributing to opiate abuse?”

The symposium, titled “Pain and Opiates: Neuronal Mechanisms, Behavioral Consequences and Societal Impact,” is composed of seven presentations, with topics ranging from prescription drug abuse and chronic pain treatment to sleep disruption and psychological assessment.

Following a brief introduction by Taylor Eighmy, UT’s vice chancellor for research and engagement, three speakers will present from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8:

  • James C. Eisenach will overview chronic pain and the central nervous system. He is professor of anesthesiology and physiology and pharmacology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. The internationally recognized expert on pain also serves as editor in chief of the journal Anesthesiology.
  • Tim J. Brennan will discuss acute pain mechanisms. He is professor of anesthesia and pharmacology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. His laboratory is focused on neural mechanisms of postoperative pain, with the goal of improving postoperative pain management in surgical patients.
  • Michael T. Smith will lecture about pain and sleep disruption. He is professor of psychiatry, neurology, and nursing at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Behavior and Health as well as the co-director of the Center for Sleep Related Symptom Science.

Following a brief introduction by Janet Nelson, associate vice chancellor for research development, four speakers will present from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 9:

  • Kelly Conrad will cover neural substrates and substance use disorder. She is a medical science liaison with Teva Pharmaceuticals, where she provides medical, scientific, and educational support and serves patients with unmet medical needs in the pain therapeutic space.
  • Ted Jones is a UT alumnus and owner of Ted Jones Research PLLC. Jones is regarded as the area’s leading psychological expert on pain and addiction issues, and was named Pain Educator of the Year in 2013. He will discuss patient psychological assessment in the context of pain medicine.
  • James J. Choo, a Knoxville native, is certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties in anesthesiology and pain medicine, and is the primary investigator for Pain Consultants of East Tennessee Research Center. He will provide an update on prescription drugs and chronic pain treatment in Tennessee.
  • Georgia Tourassi is director of both the Biomedical Science and Engineering Center and the Health Data Sciences Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and an adjunct professor of radiology at UT Graduate School of Medicine. She will describe the potential for “big data” to positively impact health care, including pain management.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

The symposium is sponsored by a Haines Morris Endowment Award, NeuroNET, the Kavli Foundation, UT Graduate School of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology, and UT Medical Center Brain and Spine Institute.

The NeuroNET Research Center was created in July 2014 in response to the rapidly growing neuroscience research and teaching presence across UT, UT Medical Center and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The center includes more than 100 members.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,