JOHNSON CITY (Oct. 8, 2019) – For almost 20 years, Dr. Judith Rice has worked closely with people who are experiencing homelessness, giving her an up-close look at the effects of the opioid crisis on this population.
Rice, an associate professor in East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing, is now sharing her knowledge and experiences with homeless services providers across the country. She recently presented a webinar about the incidence and prevalence of opioid use disorder among the homeless population for providers and contacts who work with Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH).
“I have a long-standing interest and passion in working with people who have severe mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders and also are experiencing homelessness,” Rice said. “The opioid crisis has been particularly devastating to homeless populations. Many are dying on our streets from overdoses, while others are criminalized for having an illness.”
Rice is the primary investigator of the PATH program grant at ETSU. PATH is a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration formula grant and is part of the first major federal legislative response to homelessness introduced in 1990. PATH grants are distributed annually to all 50 states.
“Each state solicits proposals and awards funds to local public or non-profit organizations known as PATH providers,” Rice said. “The PATH programs provide essential services that may not be supported by mainstream mental health programs to people with serious mental illness who are experiencing homelessness.”
The Johnson City Downtown Day Center (JCDDC), which is managed by the ETSU College of Nursing, is one of 500 recipients of the PATH grant. The JCDDC is a safe place for homeless individuals to go during the day to receive essential services, including medical and mental health clinics, counseling, substance use disorder and trauma groups, case management, washer/dryer services, shower services and a clothes closet.
Rice is excited to share what she has learned through her work with JCDDC.
“The main focus of the material I presented at the webinar were treatment options for opioid use disorder, such as medication-assisted treatment and strategies to promote access and recovery,” Rice said. “It is imperative for homeless service providers to gain a better understanding of how the opioid epidemic is affecting homeless populations and what they can do to better serve this population.”
Rice was asked to present several other webinars, which will take place later this year.To learn more about the work the JCDDC is doing in the community, visit www.etsu.edu/nursing/clinics/community/downtown.php.