Coalitions in Action – Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition Finds Support in Their Community

“Located in the northeast corner of Tennessee, Sullivan County shares a border with Virginia to the north, and North Carolina and Kentucky are within an hour’s drive,” said Coalition Director Alice McCaffrey. “In the heart of Central Appalachia, rivers, lakes and mountain ranges combine to create an appealing rural, urban and outdoor living environment. With a population of nearly 157,000, Sullivan County contains two thirds of the tri-cities (Kingsport and Bristol) with the smaller communities of Blountville and Bluff City. This includes four municipal governments, three court systems, three school systems and four law enforcement agencies. The population is mostly white, and more children live in poverty in Sullivan County than the rest of Tennessee.” 

“The Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition was formed in January of 2010,” said McCaffrey. “During 2011-2012, we witnessed what was possible when the community came together to stop the deaths from synthetic marijuana and bath salts. Silo walls came down and the district attorney, state legislators, law enforcement, health, education and parents worked together to protect young adults and prevent further deaths.”

“Our coalition has had to embrace intervention and harm reduction in addition to the original prevention focus,” said McCaffrey. “With higher tobacco use rates than the state average, and an opioid epidemic that most of the country faces, Sullivan County witnessed a sharp drop in youth tobacco use rates prior to the rise in vaping, and slowly watched the highest neonatal abstinence syndrome rate in Tennessee come down following intense focus by the Tennessee Department of Health and the medical community. Because of the high overdose rate, we had to say yes when offered an opportunity to help distribute Narcan in our region, which gave us an opportunity to reach out to generous community partners. Most recently, our community supported us again by helping to fund and staff our Overdose Response Team. This recent assistance has provided more opportunities for important collaboration than we've had before. It has also increased awareness of some of the difficult issues related to mental health and stigma that need better solutions.”

“Our coalition received a grant that allowed us to partner with our Behavioral Health institution, Frontier Health, and our Family Justice Center to put together a team that accepts referrals for survivors of an overdose or anyone who wants help to turn back from a path toward an overdose,” said McCaffrey. “The team has a coordinator who accepts referrals from law enforcement, survivors, family or friends. A certified peer recovery specialist and a case manager meet the person where they are and help move them toward their recovery. A family advocate is available to help family members or children impacted by the disease. Although the program is just a year old, the relapse rate for the clients who stay with the program is unexpected. As our state's former medical director, Dr. David Reagan said when he heard the early results, ‘it is like taking the pulse that you expect to be erratic, and it is normal.’”

“For this project, we hired good people, read the evidence that existed, researched the resources available and started connecting people to support and treatment,” said McCaffrey. “We have had good direction from the grant manager, at a time when there has been more funding in our part of the state to help people without insurance. Our partners have not only been cheerleaders for the effort, but they have also made their expertise available to help the team through their challenges.”

“My advice to other coalitions would be to read the evidence, find the partners who will collaborate with you, set standards, revise efforts, raise the standards, communicate and establish trust,” said McCaffrey. “If it can be avoided, don't become your own fiscal agent while taking on a major new project. Your community will support you if you let them know when you need help!”