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Mayor encourages youth to take leadership in fighting opioid crisis

Brandon Paykamian • Mar 8, 2019 at 8:00 PM

As the opioid crisis continues to plague Northeast Tennessee, young people are being encouraged to join the fight against the public health epidemic.

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock announced the Healthy Tennessee Challenge at a press conference Friday, inviting high school students to design their own “action plan” to educate people about the dangers of opioid abuse.

The challenge was promoted statewide by Healthy Tennessee, a non-profit organization that aims to provide health education and promote wellness initiatives throughout the state.

“The Healthy Tennessee Challenge developed because we realized our young people were being left out of the solution process. We believe these bright and energetic minds hold many of the answers to defeating the scourge of opioid addiction, and we want to reward them for leading the charge,” Dr. Manny Sethi, founder of Healthy Tennessee, said ahead of Friday’s conference.

Sethi said the challenge asks high school students to send a video proposing how to educate students and peers on the dangers of opioid abuse.

Winners will be chosen from East, Middle and West Tennessee and awarded a $2,000 grant to implement their program.

Brock, who was also joined by students from Science Hill High School and Johnson City Schools Superintendent Steve Barnett, said it’s time to “go all-out” to solve the opioid epidemic in Northeast Tennessee. In order to do that, she said young people with new perspectives need to get involved.

“Often times, we as adults say we think we have all the answers, when in fact, we don’t,” she said. 

Brock said she wants Johnson City to be “a benchmark in the state of Tennessee” when it comes to encouraging the help of youth in fighting the crisis. 

“It won’t be long until I am fully retired, and I am going to be looking to you for leadership,” Brock later said to students in the region.

“This opioid problem is a challenge,” Sethi said. “Right now, there are more prescription medications in Tennessee than there are people. This scourge of fentanyl is something we’re all facing. The opioid crisis has touched almost every single one of us in this room — your family member, your neighbor — it hurts someone.

“What we need to do is, we need our youth engaged in this problem.” 

For more information about Healthy Tennessee and the Healthy Tennessee Challenge, visit www.myhealthytennessee.com.

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