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EKU Public Health Grad Helps Save Lives by Bringing Resources to Communities Across the Commonwealth

Chase Barnes

With a service mentality, Chase Barnes, '15 '22, travels across Kentucky providing resources to prevent drug overdoses as the harm reduction program manager for the Kentucky Department for Public Health. 

Barnes chose EKU for the small class sizes and affordability. After he graduated with his bachelor of science in public health, the support from faculty and staff encouraged him to continue his education with a master’s of public health. Through internship placements, Barnes was able to find the areas in his chosen field that resonated with him most, like harm reduction. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kentucky was the state with the second-highest drug overdose deaths per capita in 2020. Harm reduction is a set of ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with substance misuse for individuals, their families and communities by meeting people where they are. The practice extends to many services including disease prevention, syringe exchange, safer use practices and linking people to housing, food access, insurance, medical care, substance use treatment and behavioral health services.

“Many of us in public health want to stay and work in Kentucky because there is such a need. We all want to see better health outcomes so that one day Kentuckians can live better, healthier lives,” Barnes said. “Right now, the public health workforce is being expanded in ways that have never been done before. Facilities across the U.S. are being updated to allow for more mobile outreach in states with counties that are sparsely populated, like Kentucky. That's what harm reduction is, meeting people where they are and understanding resources are not always available to some communities. Thankfully, we have a lot of support for funding, enabling us to go into rural areas and provide communities with services, instead of them having to come to us.” 

As the harm reduction program manager, Barnes provides oversight to Kentucky Department for Public Health’s harm reduction program and state-wide federal grants and travels in the harm reduction mobile unit to provide services with local partners. Grants help provide funding for naloxone training and distribution to first responders to stop overdoses in the field. Naloxone, widely known by the brand name Narcan, is an FDA-approved medication that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. In addition, the grants fund syringe service programs (SSP’s) for 40 local health departments across the state. 

Barnes' favorite part of the job is getting to listen to local health departments' needs and seek funding opportunities to help provide them with resources to address disparities in their communities.

“I'm a liaison that advocates for people working at the local level. I take everything that I know, hear and see from the local health departments so I can seek what's available at a federal level and apply for it,” Barnes said. “It makes it easier for health departments and gives them the resources they need to have the biggest impact in their communities. But at the end of the day, we're all one team, we're all here together. I'm here to support them, however they need it.”

The harm reduction program seeks to provide educational tools to prevent overdose deaths in Kentucky. Through the harm reduction mobile unit, Barnes and his team travel throughout the state to partner with local health departments, providing naloxone, training and distribution for individuals in their communities. The mobile unit has visited 73 counties, distributed 7,295 two-dose naloxone kits, trained 7,178 persons to respond to an overdose, and administered 576 HIV tests and 318 Hepatitis C tests. 

Eastern Kentucky University is committed to serving the needs of the Commonwealth and its service region. Beginning in August of 2023, EKU will extend its public health degrees by offering a 100% online master’s of public health. The university’s accredited public health programs provide graduates with the skills and knowledge to address existing and emerging health concerns in the state and beyond. 

Published on May 16, 2023

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