Tamera Lewis’s experience as a person in long-term recovery makes her particularly effective in ROOT, a program of Home of New Vision.
By Christina Mersereau
ROOT stands for “recovery opioid overdose team.” The program, still relatively new, relies on community involvement and support from CMH (Community Mental Health), the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, and Home of New Vision (HNV). Tamera Lewis is HNV’s sole team member at present, and she loves her job.
“This job has brought me back to life inside. I didn’t know what my role was supposed to be, where I fit in. Now, with ROOT, I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”
That would be saving lives. The way ROOT works, when a person overdoses on an opiate and is fortunate enough to be treated with Narcan, a drug which ‘reverses’ an overdose, the person is taken to either St. Joseph Mercy or the University of Michigan hospitals. From there, a ROOT member is called via telephone relay. Because Tamera is the only ROOT member right now, she gets calls at all hours of the day and night.
“In the month of June I had 17 overdose cases, sometimes during the day, sometimes at 4:00AM. I have to be ready to go to the hospital at a moment’s notice.”
Once she is with the people at the hospital, the goal is to engage with them and connect them to resources that fit their needs. Some need food and shelter, some need assistance from family, some want to go into treatment. Tamera tries to meet the individuals where they are.
“I feel the crisis is getting worse and needs more support from the community,” Lewis says. “There needs to be a better way for us to engage with people before the overdoses happen.”
Asked what makes her so successful at her job, Lewis says, “What has saved me are my skills in the street. That experience helps me to engage with the clients.”
Tamera is in recovery herself (since 1994) and says the work does not threaten her recovery at all. To unwind and take care of herself, she listens to music, talks with friends, and enjoys gardening, and planting flowers. But the job can be stressful because she is working with very desperate people, who are often at the end of their reserves.
“Do most of the people want to stop using? It depends,” she says. “Some want to but just don’t. Some want to but can’t. What I hear the most is, ‘Life is so stressful. I wanna check out.’”
Tamera’s own daughter had an overdose and was saved with Narcan, so she has that experience as well.
“This disease affects everyone and everyone’s family. It doesn’t matter who you are. Narcan saved my daughter’s life. Her friend was not so fortunate—she didn’t make it. It really breaks my heart, to see them at age 20 dying of overdoses. It’s super sad. A lot of people who have had trauma in their lives, using drugs is how they mask their feelings. Then they get to a point where they want to check out.”
A long-time resident of Ypsilanti, Tamera has a deep love of her community, and a commitment to helping others.
“I feel most addicts fall through the cracks. It’s because people think they’re not worth saving.”
Serene and somewhat intense but with a quick wit, Tamera has a sharp sense of humor. She says ROOT is the best thing that ever happened to her.
“As I said before, this job saved my life, Home of New Vision has saved my life. I love ROOT. As we continue to work all over Washtenaw County, ROOT gives me an opportunity to give back to my own community of Ypsilanti, and I love Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti is worth saving too.”
For more information about ROOT or to contact Tamera, email: email@example.com.