TN Dept. of Health launches ‘Faces of Opioids’ initiative to curb misuse of drugs


TENNESSEE (WJHL) – It is no secret the United States is facing an opioid crisis.

A new opioid awareness campaign is underway in Tennessee, featuring the stories of the people whose lives have been devastated in the drug epidemic.

This week, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) has launched its “Tennessee Faces of the Opioid Crisis” initiative. The project features people from every county in the Volunteer State.

Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control released new data that shows overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly thirty years but many are still in the grips of addiction.

Tennessee is among the hardest-hit states when it comes to the opioid addiction epidemic.

The Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) said last year alone there were more than six million painkiller prescriptions in the state. Twelve-hundred and sixty-eight people died of drug overdoses in 2017, but behind the numbers are people.

The powerful message is followed by two people in our region, impacted by the opioid crisis, who are now part of the solution. Sherri Barnett and Angelee Murray are sharing their stories in the hopes of curbing opioid addiction.

The crisis is so severe, it spreads beyond U.S. soil. Every 2.8 minutes, someone worldwide dies from an overdose, according to Faces of Opioids.

Sherri Barnett explained, “I really shouldn’t be here. At the end of my addiction, I had like a fifty to sixty Roxy 30’s snorting habit a day and trying to function.”

Five years after battling addiction to opioids, Barnett is now fueled by helping others recover. She is the face of Washington County.

“Today, I work as a regional overdose prevention specialist for the state of Tennessee. Recovery is my passion. I don’t want people to go through what I went through,” Barnett said. “I live my recovery very loudly, and the reason I do that is because I don’t want people to die silently. I want people to know that there’s help out there. That people care.”

People like Barnett want addicts to know the road to recovery is not something you can put on cruise control, but with help you will be able to get back on track.

“Of course you have stress that adds to those things, poor eating habits, poor health habits all the way around, and all of that adds to life in general,” Angelee Murray said.

Murray stopped taking opioids 11 years ago, but she said it was not easy.

She said, “I had to have it to survive. I had to have it like oxygen. It was almost like oxygen or air.”

Murray wanted to help others facing the same battle so she founded Red Legacy Recovery; a non-profit for women in recovery.

“Our goal is to help them become self-sufficient and help them become employed, and help them begin to live a positive, everyday life,” Murray said.

Murray also the director of corporate and community development for ReVIDA Recovery Centers . ReVIDA is a comprehensive behavioral healthcare company that focuses on the treatment of opioid use disorders. There are seven treatment centers in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, in 2018, more than 900 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

TDH is still searching for stories from people who are living or working in some Tennessee counties. If you would like to share how you have been impacted by the opioid crisis, click here.

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