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Recovery Navigators Provide Path to Treatment for Tennessee Addicts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) - A team of reformed addicts is meeting Tennessee's opioid crisis head-on, speaking with people in their weakest moments to provide a path to treatment.

Richard Johnston, Cheryl Coon, and Patrick Starnes have all stared down addiction. But these three, along with eight others, have teamed up across four counties and the tri-cities.

All 11 make up the Tennessee Recovery Navigators, with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Their program's mission is to meet with overdose patients in participating emergency rooms and try to connect them with treatment.

"From being someone that had laid on the gurney," Cheryl noted. "Being someone that had overdosed and had struggled so much with addiction for so long, I knew I would be able to make a difference."

The Navigator program is less than a year old, working with Buffalo Valley in Nashville and other facilities across the state.

"It's an opportunity for us to connect somebody who has that lived experience, and say I've been there I've overdosed myself," said Noelle Suarez-Murias, Director of Special Projects with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "There is another way to live this life, and recovery is real."

It's a program that might have helped the Navigators, had it existed before.

Patrick Starnes, for example, sought help after a conversation with his young daughter.

"[She] said daddy what's wrong? Why are you doing this, you look like you feel bad," he explained. "At that point in time, I knew that I had lost myself, but I didn't want to lose my family."

Richard Johnston had been revived with naloxone nine times, during a decade-long addiction to heroin.

"[The program] really caught my attention, seems like a really effective way to deal with some of the problems we're having," he added.

In 10 short months, the 11 navigators have met with more than 500 patients. In middle Tennessee, 71 patients have been counseled since October.

The program works with a handful of hospitals locally, including TriStar Skyline, and St. Thomas Midtown.

They hope to expand to more local hospitals in the near future.

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