In the Media

Articles That Feature Tennessee Harm Reduction/Daniel Garrett

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

My Published Writing

Although I never had a passion for writing growing up and studied a totally unrelated field in college, I’ve made a living as a self-employed copywriter for some six-and-a-half years now (Aug. ’15 – Oct. ’21). After visiting a drug policy conference and discovering how grossly underrepresented my area was on the national level, I decided put my skillset to good use by creating this website (Nov. ’19) and posting dozens of original articles. Since then, I’ve utilized my firsthand experience as a long-term drug user and, more recently, as a harm reductionist, to inform Tennesseeans and out-of-staters alike about about the area-specific challenges we face here in rural West and Middle Tennessee.

Despite all my writing, I had never written for any local news outlets. Not interested in just writing about anything, I hopped on the opportunity to catalogue a colleague’s effort to combine exercise — weightlifting, in this case — with 12-step addiction recovery meetings: “Fit for Recovery,” he called it.

I was correct in thinking local outlets would have interest in such a story. The first meeting was held in McKenzie, Tennessee, some 30 minutes east of my then-residence of Martin, Tennessee. About a week later, a local newspaper (Weakley County Press) ran my story. Here it is:

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! 

Zach Rhoads, host, “Episode 56: Daniel Garrett– Shining A Light On Rural Tennessee” The Social Exchange (podcast), May 15, 2020, accessed October 26, 2021,

For Drug Users, By Drug Users

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