For nearly a dozen years, the Hamilton County Coalition efforted to prevent drug and alcohol use from local adolescents. But in 2019, one grant from the Department of Justice awarded the Hamilton County Coalition an opportunity to positively effect a new batch of lives.
"We started the Coalition to offer prevention services to Hamilton County communities, but with the additional grant funds last year, we launched Nu-Start, which has shifted us into the intervention side of the things," Camilla Bibbs-Lee, Executive Director of the Hamilton County Coalition said. "Additionally to providing information and resources for drug and alcohol abuse, we're now able to actually step into certain situations and help people get the assistance or treatment they need."
The Nu-Start Program — derived from the Bureau of Justice Assistance's Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program — connects Hamilton County residents with treatment and recovery resources for individuals and families overcoming opioid dependency. Nu-Start's abilities include providing access to individual and family counseling, family stabilization and support services, in-patient, out-patient and medically assisted treatment programs, access to Naloxone and Opioid Overdose Prevention trainings.
Nu-Start ended its first quarter of 2019 with just 17 individuals in the program, but by the end of the calendar year, the program grew to over 200.
"In less than a year we've had to double our staff to keep up with the demand and help spread the work around." Bibbs-Lee said. "The diversity of our staff is a real strength for us by having people with the backgrounds ranging from being in law enforcement or emergency services, to the medical field and rehabilitation treatment. Bringing in more people has only helped us open more doors and connections with the community to make the Coalition the best it can be."
The most notable of the new connections has been with Hamilton County law enforcement, emergency services and hospitals. In May 2019, the Hamilton County Coalition partnered with the Erlanger Baroness Emergency Department to provide free Naloxone in Opioid Overdose Reversal Kits to patients with opioid-related emergencies. Later in August 2019, the Hamilton County Coalition launched a more wide-spread project when "Safe Stations" were presented in conjunction with the Chattanooga Fire Department. "Safe Stations" allows any person struggling with an opioid addiction to walk into any fire station in Chattanooga and receive a connection to the Nu-Start program and its services.
"As a Coalition, most of the things we try to change are environments — like trying to stop alcohol and tobacco being sold to minors. But realizing that we have people's lives in our hands has put a different swing on how we operate," Bibbs-Lee said. "One mistake possible has the impact of negatively effecting someone's life, so Nu-Start has further put things into reality for us.
"Besides maintaining the success of Nu-Start and our other prevention efforts, we're focused on proactively trying to keep individuals with substance abuse disorders out of the criminal justice cycle that so many are in," Bibbs-Lee continued. "It's going to take building more relationships with law enforcement and local jails and prisons to look at some of the gaps in the resources, and see how we can try to fill those voids. Once we're able to figure out where the gaps are, we should be well equipped to actually make change to make a difference for people."