Dr. Nicole Adams and the Tippecanoe Recovery and Resilience Network: Expanding Recovery Resources and Starting Conversations

Dr. Nicole Adams’ background in Nursing and Health Policy originally drew her to joining an initiative formerly known as the Tippecanoe County Opioid Task Force. Adams said that while the opioid crisis is the public health crisis of the century, it is also a policy crisis, “because a lot of the policies that have played a part in creating the problem also create barriers to addressing the problem.”

Although Adams first got involved from a policy perspective, she shared that when she began working in the space of substance use, it began shifting her focus to exploring recovery-oriented systems of care. And with this shift, collective action became a priority.

“I began looking at how organizations in a community all work together to address a problem. Because it takes a village. It’s not just one agency. It’s not one organization. It’s everybody together that really makes the difference.

Dr. Nicole Adams

Correlated to collectively expanding the response, the Tippecanoe County Opioid Task Force was rebranded in 2020 to the Tippecanoe Recovery and Resilience Network (TRRN) to address all substances, not just opioids. The TRRN also takes mental health issues and access to mental health support resources into account. “We’re trying to break down that silo that exists between substance use and mental health because they go together,” said Adams.

Amy O’Shea from United Way of Greater Lafayette shed light on the impact of TRRN on the community, “United Way has been a convener of what started as the Opioid Task Force and has evolved into the Tippecanoe Resilience and Recovery Network. Working with Dr. Nicole Adams has elevated the network and her knowledge and expertise has allowed us to go further and dream bigger as a network.”

O’Shea said that Adams’ passion for building a network of recovery resources in the community has helped TRRN build connections that enable any individual to find their path to recovery. She stated, “Her [Adams’] work with mapping the recovery pathways in our county has helped us understand the gaps and barriers and where we need to focus as a community. Dr. Adams has provided incredible leadership to the network and her work has made a significant impact in our community.”

Jason Huber, Executive Director at Tippecanoe County Community Corrections, echoed O’Shea’s remarks about Adams’ work when he shared his experience meeting Adams in 2016. He said they developed a mutual understanding of community needs, and discussed how they could “be the drivers of change.” Huber stated, “Dr. Adams has been at the forefront of several initiatives in our community specifically around justice involved individuals, identifying community needs and strengths, bridging gaps and helping forge partnerships in efforts to address the gaps. I have personally gained such valuable information and services from Dr. Adams and look forward to our continued professional relationship.”

Huber said that Purdue service-learning and engagement programs have helped accelerate the work of the Tippecanoe Recovery and Resilience Network. Huber said, “Because of Dr. Adams’ partnership with HealthCall, we were able to create a one-of-a-kind platform for our pre-trial program, connecting those being released from jail onto pre-trial. Through this, they are immediately connected with peer services and community correction services.” Huber added that Adams’ work has in turn reduced barriers for justice involved individuals and increased successful enrollment in service and the completion of sentences.

The core of Adams’ work to further reduce barriers and increase collaboration for change is the creation of a mapping tool for the Tippecanoe Recovery and Resilience Network. Building off a community-engaged research strategy, Adams created a map of opioid pathways based in a systems thinking approach that considers key stakeholders and community members as system components and reflects local resources, supply, and demand for services, and the social ecology unique to this community. “Organizations are able to visualize the importance of their interactions with other organizations within the community as they work together to address the crisis,” said Adams.

Adams added that the tool is not about fitting the community into the map, but using the map as a complex, adaptive system to be “reflective of how communities function.”

“We say it’s a journey map of everyone in the community, all on one map. Every single time we’ve presented a new map in a community, someone says: ‘I don’t know how you did it, but you found me and my pathway.’ Then someone else will say: ‘That’s exactly what’s going on in our community. And anyone here who denies that needs to open their eyes because this is what we have.’ It really helps show the truth,” said Adams.

Adams believes that the tool is especially useful in strengthening collaborations. “Using the map, it’s easy to identify gaps and barriers, so it is also mapping out instant and attainable projects for you. So, it’s really easy to say, well, this organization is not connected to this one. Why not? And how can we connect them? And often, when we get these community coalitions together, where you have leaders from those organizations. You put people together on any project, and they get to know each other. And that’s often all it takes to start building those connections.”

Adams also gives presentations to coalitions on asset-based project planning. She emphasized the importance of recognizing the work of the coalitions themselves. “I try to give them the framework and the knowledge to do this work, to impact the community, and I want to make sure credit is given there, to them,” said Adams.

Adams has had coalitions that decided mid-way they didn’t want to be a part of the project anymore and stakeholders that ultimately chose not to come to the table. She said that while it can feel like failure, it is important to remember that it’s not. “If it’s not the right thing for you, that’s ok. We are always here if you change your mind. You can always come back and start again. What’s great about that complex adaptive system is that you don’t have to have all the pieces at the same time with the asset-based project planning. You don’t have to have everybody at the table. You move forward with what you have, and you’re still able to make an impact and make change. And eventually those hesitant stakeholders in the community do come to the table, and it may take a year, or even two years, but eventually they see what’s going on and they want to be a part of it,” said Adams.

“Dr. Adams is a leader in the Tippecanoe County Opioid Task Force and someone who many across the state and country look toward for guidance, innovation, and astute knowledge in finding creative solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing justice involved individuals. Her passion for helping others and fighting for solutions is beyond commendable,” Huber added.