ETSU medical professionals provide different method of combating drug addiction

As opioid and the harmful effects of addiction to them continue to make the news in East Tennessee, a multitude of organizations has provided many different avenues to help cope with their effects or seek help in overcoming the addiction. One such group is doing so in ways some may find unconventional.

Deirdre Gudger, Director of Prevention and Outreach at ETSU Health and the Quillen College of Medicine, said Syringe Trade and Education Program works to provide resources for those struggling with addiction, not just to opioids but any kind of harmful drugs.

“The program was not legalized in Tennessee until May of 2017,” Gudger said.

The program then launched the following year.

At its core, the program functions as a kind of support group, where participants can go seek assistance for a variety of problems relating to addiction. Unlike many other organizations, however, Gudger said they are willing to take the slow approach is it means weaning people off of harmful drugs and injection methods if it means success in the long-term, rather than forcing people to go cold-turkey.

“No one wakes up and says ‘I want to get addicted,’” she said. “We have had people who did not even think about it before they came here.”

Instead, she said the program focuses on quality injection education while pursuing the overall goal of rehabilitation and recovery.

“We want to keep you safe,” Gudger said. “We want to make sure you are not contracting or spreading infectious diseases.”

The program also serves as a means for people to dispose of needles they have already used, as well as providing safe, clean needles for participants of the program to use. For the latter service, Gudger said state law mandates they return every needle participants receive, and the program keeps count.

“When we first started, there were people saying negative things,” Gudger said. “They said ‘Let the trash take out the trash.’”

As a health care professional who has worked in the field for several years, she said this mentality was hurtful to hear, especially since she said recovering from addiction is not a one-day process.

“I do not know many families who do not struggle with this,” she said. “You have to look at it like a diet. Everyone does it, but after four weeks, we see ourselves sliding out. It is the same as any other addiction.”

She said support from law enforcement has been positive, and the program even gives out tickets to give to officers who see them carrying needles in the car. As long as the driver is, indeed, delivering the needles to the facility during business hours, law enforcement is willing to work with the program.

Gudger said the program uses positive reinforcement rather than berating participants whenever they mess up.

“They got ‘You are a failure’ from so many other people,” she said. “We try to be strength-based. We are excited with them.”

Those looking for more information or wish to participate in the program can do so by contacting ETSU Health at 423-930-8337. Their office is located at 615 N. State of Franklin Road in Johnson City and are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday except Friday, when they close 30 minutes earlier at 3:30.

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