“We do recover.” Nurse practitioner shares success in beating opioid addiction

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Inside the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition you will find story after story of addiction and recovery.

Perhaps one of the most powerful belongs to Sherry Barnett, a nurse practitioner and the region’s Overdose Prevention Specialist for the state of Tennessee.

Barnett’s region-wide fight against the opioid epidemic started with her own fight, her own addiction.

“Snorting a half a pill turned into 50 to 60 pills a day. If you put a money amount on my drug habit it was about 1800, 2000 dollars a day,” says Barnett.

At one time owning her own healthcare clinic, the nurse loved her work and her patients. But after the divorce and death of her husband, a love for an escape came first.

“I was searching for something. Addiction, it no longer becomes a high and feeling good, it becomes a fear of being dope sick,” says Barnett.

Three years of writing prescriptions to feed her addiction lead to a breaking point.

“The TBI raided my clinic,” says Barnett. “There was one gentleman there that showed empathy toward me and I never will forget that. It’s the one time I felt, ok, this is it, I can find recovery.”

With recovery came withdrawal. Even still, Barnett knew she could only move forward. ​

“On my second-year sobriety date I found out I was sentenced to Alderson Federal Prison in West Virginia. At this point my license has to be surrendered.”

After prison, she began a new fight: to get a job and regain her nursing license. She says in this endeavor, the system was stacked against her success.

“People give up on their dreams because people don’t hire people in recovery, people don’t hire felons. That’s where I believe my journey is to be, to advocate for us,” says Barnett.

Craig Forrester, a fellow recovering addict now sober for five years, co-founded the non-profit “Recovery Resources. He advocates that jobs give those in recovery purpose and direction.

“You see the light start to come on in their eye, they get a little color in their face and they start to feel good about themselves,” says Forrester. “If someone hadn’t given me a chance and I was left to flounder I’d probably be another statistic of somebody who had a lot of potential that didn’t live up to it.”

Forrester also believes it is up to the recovering addict to prove they can change.

“What that looks like is we show up early, we stay late, we bring a good attitude to work. We can show the true transformation of what can happen in someone,” says Forrester.

Barnett says she’s the perfect example of the importance of second chances.

“People in recovery, when they’re able to find a job, when they’re able to feel self-worth they will do better in recovery, their relapses are less.”

Barnett wants to spread a message that even at your lowest point, you have value.

“No matter what you’ve done, no matter how bad it’s been, recovery is possible. I think that showing empathy and meeting people where they are is key. And that’s what it took for me.”

She is one of the few to accomplish what many saw as the impossible: she now works to prevent overdoses in our region and finally regained her nursing license.

“It’s an inspiration to me to know I am trusted in that field from the board of nursing. And that is a trust I will not break again,” says Barnett.

As an overdose specialist, she advocates daily for “harm reduction.” A primary role in her work with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition is to make Narcan readily available in our region. She says Narcan is a life-saving drug that everyone should have access to.

Barnett hopes by sharing her success story, she will not be the last to overcome addiction, fight to regain her career, and go on to live a fulfilling life.

If you or someone you know needs help making the first step to recovery from drug addiction, these resources are available in the Tri-Cities region:

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