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STEP TN Provides Overdose Awareness + Education at Cempa

“Overdose” sounds like an ugly term — but an overdose doesn’t always mean someone has died. Experiencing an overdose means someone’s drug dosage is over a typical amount. Through Cempa Community Care’s STEP TN program, individuals have access to a syringe and needle exchange program, as well as life-saving medications to reverse an overdose. 

Founded in 2018, Cempa’s Syringe Trade and Education Program (STEP) Tennessee program meets the growing need for outreach and resources for individuals who inject drugs. It’s part of Cempa’s harm reduction program through prevention, providing clean syringes for individuals and safe disposal of used syringes.

According to Anastasia Bodell, Prevention and Education Program Manager at Cempa, this type of health and education initiative provides life-saving medications and outreach to stigmatized individuals. 

“By creating a program that focuses on giving out clean syringes, we can effectively reduce the rate of transmission of HIV and hepatitis C,” Bodell says. “Similarly, if we can build trust and bring an individual in for healthcare, we can serve as a confidential place to receive regular testing, mental health services, and referrals for drug and treatment centers. We also provide Naloxone, a medication that reverses an overdose, to clients in the STEP TN program.”

Reversing an Overdose

Naloxone is a medication used to reverse an overdose. During an overdose, when the body is overwhelmed by heroin or other opioids, an individual may stop breathing. Naloxone, readily available through STEP TN’s two locations at Cempa in Chattanooga and East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, enables an individual to recover from an overdose. 

STEP TN provides Naloxone to every client who comes to the clinic, even if they’re not opioid users. Since January 2020, STEP TN reports a 96% survival rate for clients who have requested overdose reversal medications like Naloxone or Narcan. 

“Even if a client doesn’t necessarily use opioids, they may use with a friend who does. We want to provide the tools to potentially revive them,” Bodell says. “Through our partnership with the Hamilton County Coalition, we have access to Naloxone nasal sprays. These may be otherwise inaccessible to clients who can’t afford this medication or don’t have a prescription.”

Through STEP TN, Cempa continues to build trust with clients. STEP TN does not require clients to provide personal data, providing anonymity for clients. As more people learned about STEP TN, Bodell says their numbers increased. 

“When we’re dealing with people who have been stigmatized, whether through using drugs or being HIV positive, it’s hard to build trust. These individuals are used people thinking the worst of them. Providing a safe place for people to seek supplies and healthcare services, if they choose, aligns with Cempa’s mission.”

By focusing their efforts on harm-reduction, Bodell and care providers through STEP TN and Cempa strive to create a safe place for clients to get tested and treated, seek mental health counseling services, and connect with other area organizations for addiction and rehabilitation, as well as housing. With rapid testing available on-site at Cempa and a sliding-fee scale for services, clients have access to treatment and support services, particularly for more challenging diagnoses like HIV. 

At both STEP TN locations, Bodell hopes to build a community and support network led by clients.

“Addiction is exasperated by isolation,” Bodell says. “We want people in East Tennessee to know that we’re a safe place where they can get treated. We want to see HIV transmission rates reduced to zero. We can provide clients with mental health services and meet them exactly where they are. By connecting clients with a community, they don’t have to live in isolation. Our goal is for them to discover life as an active, happy member of society.

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, and we are proud of our CEO Shannon Stephenson who will be speaking at the Tennessee Department of Health event to continue statewide efforts in harm reduction. Check out our social media channels for more details.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the team at Cempa can help. Contact us today.

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