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Tennessee Puts a Face on the Opioid Crisis in New Awareness Initiative

Tennessee's health department is trying to humanize the opioid crisis. A public awareness campaign funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launches Tuesday.

It's called "Tennessee Faces of the Opioid Crisis." The state has identified one person from each county to represent thousands fighting addiction. In Knoxville, it's Michele Norris. She's in long-term recovery, volunteers as a peer counselor and runs a weekly meeting in the public housing projects.

Norris says, even with increased attention to overdose deaths, there remains denial.

"A lot of the African American churches, they don't want to talk about it," she says. "They don't even want to talk about it, even though members in their own congregations are having opioid problems."

Norris's own sister is in active addiction, she says.

For those faith-based groups that have jumped into response mode, the other side of the awareness campaign addresses a need for more cooperation. Norris says there are now so many organizations offering their own brand of treatment, some have become competitive.

"Some people think that their program is better than others," she says.

The state will act as a referee, reminding everyone they're on the same team.

The effort spearheaded by the Tennessee Department of Health includes a statewide media campaign and sharing materials with groups who want to distribute information about preventing drug abuse and misuse.

An event to launch the campaign is being held at the Tennessee State Museum Tuesday morning.

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