Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response – A Catalyst for Change

Category: Column

by Randy Boyd

For my first eight months on the job as UT’s interim president, my most asked question has been “What has surprised you the most?” For someone who has known UT all my life, the biggest surprise is how little I knew about the impact we make across the state. From individual faculty members like Kristina Gordon, who is starting the Knoxville Marriage Initiative to strengthen families and reduce root causes of many social issues, to the Extension agents in every county that are so passionate about the 4-H students they support, UT truly is everywhere you look!

Opioids and addiction are decimating families and communities across our state. During the past five years, I’ve traveled to nearly every town in every county, and everywhere I turn lives are being destroyed. In spite of the state’s great achievements in education and the economy our state has achieved, this plague threatens to derail it. Opioid addiction does not discriminate based on zip code, income, education level, skin color or family background. It impacts us all, in every corner of our state and across our country.

But, everywhere you look, UT is there to help. From the Colleges of Pharmacy, Medicine and Dentistry at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, to the Oak Ridge National Labs super computer mining public health records for better diagnostics, to the UT Knoxville College of Social Work, our University is making an impact. However, we haven’t been working together. Like so many across our state doing great work, we often work in isolation.

The best way to make the greatest impact on this terrible disease and epidemic is for all of us to bring our collective expertise to the table. We are better when we work together. Our Aug. 1 and 2 Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response (SOAR) in Knoxville aims to do just that. We have more than 700 physicians, nurses, judges, law enforcement officers, economists, faith-based leaders, public health experts, addiction survivors, government officials, legislators and more across every corner of our state to share their stories and expertise on how Tennesseans can put an end to the opioid epidemic. To learn more about our efforts to end opioid addiction, please visit

I know this summit can be the collective catalyst to spark a chain reaction felt throughout the state and the country.

This is an enormous undertaking, but if we work together with our combined expertise and experiences, we can develop solutions that permanently break the cycle of addiction in our communities across the state. Together we can transform those affected by this opioid epidemic. UT is for all Tennesseans, and we are here to help change lives.

Randy Boyd

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