The effects of substance abuse and the opioid epidemic have hit close to home for Miss Tennessee 2017 Caty Davis.
Her grandfather, father and half-brother all battled addiction, but Davis said her position as Miss Tennessee gives her a great opportunity to change the conversation surrounding drugs and alcohol.
"My hope is that we change the stigma, or erase the stigma," she said. "I don't want anyone to go down the path that my brother or father did - to feel that they can't get into treatment or can't get better."
A record number of Tennesseans are dying from drug overdoses, and in 2016 nearly 73 percent of those deaths were attributed to opioids.
More information about proper prescription handling is available online at www.countitlockitdropit.org.
Since being crowned Miss Tennessee in June, Davis has traveled around the state promoting her "Attacking Addiction" platform, which aims to educate, reduce stigma and empower people to seek treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.
"I get to speak to 70,000 students this year on addiction prevention," she said.
On Monday, Davis visited Chattanooga to meet with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee employees and increase awareness for the Count It! Lock It! Drop It! campaign that's sponsored by the BlueCross' Health Foundation.
The campaign targets prescription pain medication misuse, a common catalyst that leads to opioid addiction, by encouraging people to regularly count their pills, lock up medications to prevent theft, and properly dispose of unused prescriptions.
According to a report from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, 55 percent of people who use opioids recreationally got the medicine from friends or family members.
Lori Johnson, a customer service representative at BlueCross, lost her 23-year-old daughter to an opioid overdose, saying her drug use began with prescriptions.
"The night before she passed away, she got prescription pain medicine from someone. If they had locked it up, that wouldn't have happened," Johnson said, adding that she admires what Davis is doing to promote awareness.
"With her being young, it's a really good message for other young women," Johnson said.
Davis earned a psychology degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and said she plans to go back to school and pursue graduate studies focused on childhood psychology and substance abuse.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at [email protected] or 423-757-6673.