In the Media

Publications That Feature Tennessee Harm Reduction/Daniel Patrick Garrett

“Lessons in Taking Things One Day at a Time, from People in Recovery” | Slate

In April 2020, I was featured in a Slate article, written by harm reduction community favorite Zachary Siegel, about COVID’s then-newfound impact on people in recovery.

Daniel Garrett lives in rural northwest Tennessee.* His recovery from opioid addiction has been greatly helped by federal regulatory changes to increase access to buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder by keeping the brain’s opioid receptor sites activated, which subdues cravings for more potent opioids like heroin and fentanyl. (Another common treatment is methadone, which similarly satiates the body’s need for other opioids; Bourdain was on it for years.) Both drugs are incredibly effective yet heavily regulated and difficult to access, usually requiring frequent doctor visits and limited take-home supplies. But these restrictive rules were recently loosened to adapt to our new reality (though these changes have been unevenly and haphazardly applied).

Instead of going to his doctor for a weekly supply of buprenorphine, Garrett is now allowed to do his appointment over telehealth, where he can be given a two-week supply to reduce his outings to the pharmacy, which for him is an hour’s drive away. Garrett is also on probation, which has been much less flexible in its response to COVID-19. “The probation office sent out a mass text earlier this week that told probationers like me we’d still be required to check in in person like always, despite the threat of the coronavirus,” he said. “Gotta love this criminal justice system, but this ain’t new to me.”

Siegel, Zachary. “Lessons in Taking Things One Day at a Time, from People in Recovery.” Slate Magazine. Slate, April 2, 2020. https://slate.com/technology/2020/04/recovery-isolation-tips.html.

“When My Suboxone Doctor Quit on Me, It Left a Frightening Void” | Filter

In February 2021, I was featured in a Filter article, penned by Philly-based freelance journalist Brandon Dorfman, about the problems faced by medication-assisted treatment enrollees.

According to Daniel Garrett, who lives in a small town in Tennessee, lack of access to buprenorphine and other MOUD options is a feature of the system. “Countless people do avoid getting help because they can’t find Suboxone providers,” Garrett, who runs the website Tennessee Harm Reduction, told Filter. “I’ve heard many fellow opioid users say they don’t know where to find Suboxone doctors at.”

Stigma against MOUD can be especially acute in his part of rural Tennessee, said Garrett. He related how last summer, his own search for Suboxone saw him facing unnecessary stints in detox, roundabout trips to various pharmacies, and weekly visits to cash-hungry doctors—a major financial burden for someone without health insurance.

Although, in the end, Garrett found treatment through a grant-funded program with the help of his connections to Tennessee’s harm reduction community, the state’s issues remain. It’s tellingly rare for MOUD providers to advertise their services in rural areas; Garrett can only recall two in Northwest Tennessee in recent years: a short-lived digital billboard, and some blue-and-white ads slapped on telephone poles. And despite spending a good deal of his time handing out syringes, naloxone and other items in the drug-user community, “I heard nothing about these ads,” from anyone in that community, he said.

Dorfman, Brandon. “When My Suboxone Doctor Quit on Me, It Left a Frightening Void.” Filter Magazine. Filter, April 29, 2021. https://filtermag.org/suboxone-doctor-quit/.

“State Sticking to Its Approach on Opioid Epidemic” | The Daily Memphian

In May 2021, I was featured in a Daily Memphian article, authored by Ian Round, about the Volunteer State’s response to the opioid epidemic — surprise, surprise, they’re not doing nearly enough! The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference also published the article as part of their “Fentanyl: The Deadliest High” campaign.

The Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist program isn’t perfect, says Daniel Garrett, an independent “harm reductionist” in Jackson.

Garrett is an active opioid user who is nonetheless trying to help other users. He runs the Tennessee Harm Reduction blog and promotes the principle of harm reduction, a strategy popular in some parts of the country that seeks to help users be as safe as possible with their addiction. 

Garrett said ROPS can’t reach addicts in rural West Tennessee as well as they do in Memphis, and it’s much harder to access naloxone. He said a lot of users don’t trust social services for fear of getting tangled in the criminal justice system.

“The bad thing about ROPS is this: they struggle, really, really hard to reach people who are actually using opioids,” he said. “Maybe they’ll hit some old grannies who get opioid (prescriptions). Maybe they’ll hit some family members of people who’re in active addiction. But in terms of people who’re at the most risk . . . ROPS suck at reaching those people.”

Garrett estimates he’s given out 7,000 syringes, 1,100-1,750 doses of naloxone and an unknown number of fentanyl test strips in the past two years.

“I actually break the law to distribute these supplies, unfortunately, namely with syringes,” said Garrett, a copywriter in addition to running the blog.

He said it’s so tedious to access naloxone and other supplies that he gets them for free from a supplier in New York City.

“Harm reduction is non-existent here,” he said.

Round, Ian. “State Sticking to Its Approach on Opioid Epidemic.” Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian. The Daily Memphian, May 2, 2021. https://dailymemphian.com/article/21536/tennessee-sticks-to-its-approach-on-opioid-epidemic

“Drug Users Are Nostalgic for ‘Old-School Heroin’ as Fentanyl Takes Over” | VICE

In November 2021, I was featured in a Vice article — done by Manisha Krishnan — about the ever-growing trend of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues replacing heroin in North American illicit opioid markets.

For nearly five years, Daniel Garrett made two-hour round trips, sometimes twice a day, from Martin to Jackson, Tennessee, so he could buy heroin, anywhere from half a gram to a gram each time. 

The rides, along a highway that passed through a string of small towns, often took place at night, which was dangerous because of the failing headlights on his 2007 black Nissan Sentra and because Garrett made the trips home high; one time he nodded off, crossed over a median, and skidded 200 feet. 

Finally, this March, the 26-year-old copywriter moved to Jackson to be closer to the source of the drugs he wanted. But once there, he noticed heroin was becoming harder and harder to find. Then it disappeared altogether.  

“I saw it pop up maybe three or four times, but for no longer than three or four days in a row,” Garrett told VICE News. 

He hasn’t come across any heroin since September—it’s been entirely replaced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s up to 50 times more potent. 

“Fentanyl sucks,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t last long, it doesn’t provide you much euphoria, so it doesn’t offer me much utility. It’s just fentanyl around now, and I fear it’s going to be like that forever.” 

People like Garrett and Thomson have their reasons for favouring heroin, including its vinegary smell, its taste, and the feeling of “euphoria” it can create.

Garrett said he has considered moving to the West Coast or the Midwest, where he can still find heroin, but he doesn’t want to leave behind his harm-reduction efforts in Tennessee. He spends his spare time running an underground syringe-exchange program and carting naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and other drug paraphernalia around his car and offering them to drug users at hotels. He said he’s overdosed at least three times on a combination of heroin and fentanyl, though he blames that in part due to stress from legal issues tied to his drug consumption.  

Garrett said heroin helps him cope with his anxiety and depression, “but on top of it, it just makes me feel good.” 

He’s currently enrolled in a methadone program that requires him to go to a clinic daily and complete urine tests. He said his dose isn’t high enough to completely divert him from using fentanyl. Ironically, he said the clinic told him if he keeps testing positive for street drugs, he’ll be cut off. 

“That’s an ass-backwards way of thinking, because I want enough legal methadone to not use illicit opioids.” In an ideal world, he said he would have access to legal painkillers like oxycodone or morphine. 

He said he knows he will use drugs for the rest of his life and it frustrates him that he’s being criminalized for it. 

“I feel like opioids improve my life holistically. I really think they do. And maybe that’s funny because, you know, it really puts me at high risk of death.” 

Krishnan, Manisha. “Drug Users Are Nostalgic for ‘Old-School Heroin’ as Fentanyl Takes Over.” VICE. Vice Media, November 3, 2021. https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dgzq8/fentanyl-has-overtaken-heroin-market

“What It’s Like to Seek Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use: ‘I Broke Down Crying'” | Today

In September 2022, I found my way into a Today article. Put together by Kerry Breen, the piece covered the difficulties presented by medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.

When Daniel Patrick Garrett began using Suboxone three years ago, he spent hours driving to find a pharmacy that would accept his prescription for the opioid use disorder treatment. 

Eight couldn’t or wouldn’t fill the prescription, Garrett recalled. A ninth would, but wouldn’t accept his discount card, something that the uninsured 27-year-old needed to use to afford the medication. Finally, at the tenth location, a Kroger about an hour from his home, they were willing to fill the prescription and accept the discount. 

“I broke down crying because I was so happy that they would just fill it for me,” Garrett, based in Jackson, Tennessee, and the director and founder of Tennessee Harm Reduction, told TODAY. 

Now, he uses methadone, another similar medication. While he no longer has to do the two-hour round-trip drive to a pharmacy, he does have to drive to a local clinic five days a week to take doses of the medication under supervision. While the ride is only about five minutes each way, the near-daily attendance (the clinic is closed on weekends) and limited hours can make it difficult. Clients waiting for the clinic can spend up to an hour in line, which can result in comments from passersby and public stigma. 

“I wish it wasn’t like this,” Patrick said.

Breen, Kerry. “What It’s Like to Seek Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use: ‘I Broke Down Crying.” Today. September 2, 2022. https://www.today.com/health/overdose-awareness/medication-can-treat-opioid-use-disorder-take-rcna39360

“Fit for Recovery — A New Take on Recovery” | The Weakley County Press

People are joking around, laughing and enjoying themselves. Why can’t recovery always be this fun?

Like many, I’ve struggled with addiction throughout much of my 25 years here on Earth. In response to the opioid crisis, there seems to be more recovery-related resources than ever before. From my experience, few of them seem to work — and if they do, they don’t work very well.

This weekend, I was invited to Fit for Recovery, a new form of community support for individuals in recovery. The idea came from Chris Smith, the Lifeline Peer Project Regional Coordinator for Northwest Tennessee (technically known as Region 6N).

Smith invited several young men from Hope Center Ministries, a faith-based rehab center in Waverly, to participate. “Right now,” he says, “let’s try this out and see where it goes.”

Participants, seven of us in total, exercised in a local CrossFit gym for an hour before having a group discussion. Although similar to other 12-step groups, this one’s unique — everyone seems much happier and willing to share more than in run-of-the-mill 12-step meetings.

Jordan Bailey notes that exercise has a paradoxical effect: “You feel tired but you almost have more energy at the end of the day.” Smith agrees, noting that exercise “is a replacement” for the dopamine that recovering addicts’ brains fail to produce on their own.

Austin, another participant, notes that pre-discussion exercise primes his mind for better discussion. “You come off the streets after work, your mind’s all jumbled.” After the hour-long exercise session, “I feel more focused, my mind ain’t all crazy.”

Smith, a bona fide exercise freak, compares exercise to recovery. “We work hard until we can’t go any harder. I know I’ve done the work.” He’s not the only one who enjoys being here — everyone else seems to enjoy this novel approach to recovery.

People are joking around, laughing and enjoying themselves. Why can’t recovery always be this fun?

Of course, completely changing our lives will never be easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. Now, however, Northwest Tennessee may have an all-new resource for recovery. 

Garrett, Daniel. “Fit for Recovery — A new take on recovery.” The Weakley County Press, March 23, 2021.

Podcasts… Er, That One Podcast, I Mean

Shortly after I received relatively substantial backlash from a pair of articles I wrote here on Tennessee Harm Reduction — one is “‘People Who Use Drugs’—Slow Your Roll on Person-First Language Like This,” the other is “Where Drug Users’ Unions May Fall Short” — writer, author, recovering addict, harm reductionist, and podcast host (am I forgetting anything?) Zach Rhoads offered to have me on his podcast, placing me alongside The Social Exchange alumni including Stanton Peele, Maia Szalavitz, Carl Hart, Ben Westhoff, and — my personal favorite — Rick Barnett.

Welcome to episode 56!

Today’s guest is Daniel Garrett.

Daniel belongs to a demographic that has not been widely represented on this podcast.

Hailing from rural Northwest Tennessee, Daniel is in his mid-20s, he is bisexual, he is below the poverty line, he’s experienced traumatic events and difficult family circumstances growing up, he has done sex work, and he currently uses illicit drugs (even though he’s actively trying to pursue alternative, more healthy involvements and cut down on (or stop) his drug use.

Fortunately, for the first time in his life, Daniel has found something meaningful and purposeful to pursue– namely, educating the public about harm-reduction. 

Unfortunately, he is often misunderstood by people who mistake his eccentric personality (and blunt way of putting things) as meaning he’s ignorant and/or acting in bad faith.

In my experience, the former is true; the latter is absolutely not.

I hope you’ll find Daniel’s ideas interesting and that you’ll enjoy episode 56! 

Rhoads, Zach. “Daniel Garrett– Shining A Light On Rural Tennessee”. The Social Exchange. May 15, 2020. Accessed October 26, 2021, https://thesocialexchange.libsyn.com/danielfinal

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