The recovery community is global, but there are some areas where recovery thrives and community support is especially strong. Many people have known South Florida as the Recovery Capital of the World—because of it’s treatment resources and the sheer number of people who stay in the area to build new lives in recovery.
Now, the state of Tennessee is emerging as a recovery hotspot, and the Nashville community is becoming a place for wellness and healing. With progressive prevention and treatment efforts, local community coalitions, and an incredibly involved peer-support program, Tennessee is making serious strides in the recovery world with well-run treatment facilities and aftercare programs.
Tennessee’s Drug Problem
The opioid epidemic has been the state’s number 1 public health crisis this year. In 2001, more than half of the people admitted to substance abuse treatment programs reported alcohol as their primary substance of abuse and only around 5% reported heroin or other opiates as their primary substance of abuse.
In just 15 years, alcohol abuse has decreased while both heroin and opioid abuse have increased significantly. In 2015, almost 40% of treatment admissions reported heroin (7%) or other opiates (30%) as their primary substance of abuse.
More than 1,200 people in Tennessee are dying from drug overdoses every year. The state ranks second in per capita opioid prescriptions. As state laws have cracked down on opioid prescribing, heroin use has been increasing—much of which has been laced with fentanyl or carfentanil, a deadly elephant tranquilizer.
The severity of the state’s drug problem comes with a host of other issues. More than 1,000 children are born addicted to drugs each year in Tennessee. Hundreds and thousands more are placed in foster care each year, due to their parents’ drug-related issues. In response, communities across the state are working harder to serve their citizens and provide much-needed care and support.
Recovery is Changing in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (formerly the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation) has become extremely involved in recovery efforts across the state. After receiving federal grants in the 1980s, the state increased its focus on mental health services and expanded its focus to include substance abuse services. That’s when recovery and family support groups started to emerge.
Several family support groups joined to form the Tennessee Alliance for the Mentally Ill (TAMI) formed (now known as NAMI Tennessee), and their work has helped to change the system significantly. TAMI helped the state expand its focus from treatment services exclusively to helping people actually sustain recovery in the long-term. Mental health services are nowoffered alongside substance abuse services, social support services have increased, and quality aftercare options are made available.
Most importantly, peer support programs have become crucial to Tennessee’s recovery communities. Peer support is an evidence-based practice in the substance abuse treatment field. With peer support, people in recovery feel connected in a way that’s often lacking in the depths of addiction. People who have first-hand experience with addiction and recovery are often the best equipped to help one another on the road to healing. Using this idea, Tennessee is building stronger recovery communities.
Making Recovery a Priority
State support is often necessary for local recovery communities to thrive. Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse services has been a champion for the needs and rights of people in recovery. They’ve taken a progressive look at substance abuse, and are building an environment where recovery is both valued and supported.
For people in recovery, the Department established its Lifeline Peer Project. The project aims to reduce the harmful stigmas surrounding addiction, while also increasing access to substance abuse recovery and support. Its representatives have started more self-help support groups across the state, like AA, NA, and Celebrate Recovery. They help connect people with treatment. Most importantly, they speak about their own recovery experiences and connect with people who are struggling on a personal level.
For both substance abuse and mental health recovery, the Department started Recovery Within Reach. The website is meant to be a resource for people in recovery, where they can find:
- Educational resources about recovery
- Employment opportunities
- Help with housing and transportation
- Self-help groups for a wide range of addictions
- Peer support services
Recovery within Reach began a unique peer-support program in 2007. Recovering people with 2 years of recovery or more can apply for training to become Certified Peer Recovery Specialists. These specialists then are connected with people new to recovery, to offer a helping hand, share their first-hand experiences, and ultimately give support and understanding. Now, there are almost 600 certified Peer Specialists in Tennessee.
These resources are readily available to people across the state, and the Department has made them easy to find on their website. Communities in Tennessee are joining together in the fight against substance abuse, modeling tactics that may benefit other communities across the country.
Building a Recovery-Friendly Community
Tennessee has also started implementing new harm reduction measures, in an attempt to fight the opioid crisis. Across the state, you can find prescription drug take-back boxes, where unused prescription drugs can be disposed. This prevents potentially dangerous medications from getting into the hands of children, sold on the streets, or polluting the waterways.
Tennessee also has a huge movement of anti-drug coalitions, working to improve substance abuse prevention efforts and inform local communities. There are over 43 different community coalitions in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services also funds 2 statewide coalitions.
The Prevention Alliance of Tennessee (PAT) is a group of coalitions that have joined together in protecting their communities through prevention. They bring education about substance abuse to the public and advocate for public health policy changes.
The Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Dug & other Addiction Services (TAADAS) also advocates for prevention, as well as treatment and recovery services. The group started The Tennessee REDLINE (1-800-889-9789)—a toll-free information and referral line. In the spirit of open access to care and providing the best quality care, the REDLINE is funded by the state and not sponsored by any specific facility or organization. Any program or provider can apply to be included in their referral database.
For recovery support to be successful, it’s crucial that those resources are not only accessible, but also accepted within the community. So many stigmas hold people back from seeking help for substance abuse or mental health issues. Rather than making substance abuse a shameful condition, communities have a responsibility to support recovering people on their path to health.
Programs Tailored to Those Who Need It
Tennessee isn’t just increasing the support that’s available to people in recovery—it’s taking a personalized look at substance abuse and recovery. It’s communities have established programs to suit the specific needs of different groups.
There are programs that specifically focus on empowering women who have suffered from abuse, addiction, and sexual exploitation. Many rehabs and support groups in the state are geared towards the LGBT community. There are several programs for youth who are struggling with substance abuse, and some even offer free services for people who can’t pay.
Tennessee is also home to new, innovative programs that are helping recovering people build new lives, like at Renovatus Recovery Community. The organization, based in Jefferson City, has begun a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Recovering people can join the 26-week program and work on the community’s farms, which provide produce to local people. Before the CSA program, only about 20% of people from Renovatus retained recovery. Currently, their retention rate is 100%.
The state is also recognizing that many of its drug-related cases involve real people who are in need of help. Some communities have programs that visit local jails to bring in recovery classes and meetings. The state has expanded its local recovery courts system, to help redirect people from the criminal justice system into treatment.
There’s a growing understanding in Tennessee of how addiction rewires the brain, fostering a sense of empathy that lends to better care. Communities in the state seem to recognize that true healing requires time and support.
What’s Happening in Nashville
In particular, Nashville has been a thriving recovery community in Tennessee that’s focusing on overall wellness. There are several meditation communities throughout the city that host daily meditations and are open to the public.
Against the Stream Nashville is one of the many meditation communities in Nashville—also free and open to the public, but focused specifically on supporting people in recovery. The community was started by a Buddhist meditation teacher and addiction treatment specialist, who’s also a former addict himself. Against the Stream Nashville hosts several recovery groups each week, as well as guided meditations.
Nashville has also started hosting several recovery community events, to connect the city’s recovering people. In August, Nashville Storytellers featured people’s stories of addiction and recovery during its live storytelling night. Their aim was to help the community better understand the battle of addiction and show that new beginnings are possible.
In September, Nashville hosted RecoveryFest Nashville—a free event with food and music. RecoveryFest is a grassroots movement, and the event celebrated the positive impact of recovery from substance abuse and gave recovering people a place to share hope with one another.
Events like these make recovery a matter that’s open to the public and easier to talk about. People in Tennessee, both in recovery and not, have a chance connect and develop a deeper understanding of one another as humans.
More Support, More Recovery
The city of Nashville is becoming a place of refuge for recovering people, and Tennessee as a whole has built communities of acceptance for its recovering people. As the state’s resources have increased and policies are changing, people are becoming more open about recovery. There’s a strong network of peer-to-peer connection, which is helping to eliminate stigmas.
Tennessee is a now pioneer for new approaches to prevention, treatment, and community support. The state is handling substance abuse with empathy and helping its citizens to build new, healthier lives. As we fight substance abuse across our country, there’s so much we can learn from Tennessee’s recovery communities.