University of Tennessee SSDP Joins Howard Baker Policy Challenge

University of Tennessee SSDP Joins Howard Baker Policy Challenge


Miranda Gottlieb, President and Founder of the UTK SSDP Chapter

Written by Miranda Gottlieb, University of Tennessee SSDP chapter leader

Members from the SSDP chapter at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) have put together a policy team for the 2nd annual Howard Baker Policy Challenge with a policy initiative focusing on developing a clean needle exchange in Nashville, Tennessee. The semester-long commitment to the Policy Challenge program helps students learn how to make a real impact on issues through public policy research, analysis, and teamwork. The Challenge engages students through problem solving, drafting of legislation, promotion of a public policy initiative and innovation of new ways to implement it. Students are tested to consider the substance of a specific policy and the socio-political influences, stakeholders, institutional process, and decision-making structures affiliated with their topic.

The SSDP UTK team is working on proposing a city ordinance that would permit clean needle exchanges to take place in the Nashville Metropolitan area in an attempt to reduce HIV and Hepatitis C transmission. Because needles are considered paraphernalia in the state of Tennessee, the ordinance will challenge Tennessee Code [39-17-425] and begin the process of augmenting the state’s current prohibition of needle exchange clinics around the state. Federal law continues to ban the funding of needles for exchange programs, but in early 2016 in the federal omnibus spending bill permitted funds to be allocated towards staffing costs and other expenses affiliated with the needle exchange programs. Although funds will likely not be allocated by the city of Nashville for the purchase of clean needles at the inception of the program, other harm reduction groups around the country cover the costs by donations and exterior grant funding.

Across the University of Tennessee campus, teams are putting together proposals for environment and sustainability, transportation policy, civic engagement and beyond. However, the SSDP UTK believes that they will take home the grand prize of $3000 at the end of the semester. The judging will be based on the defining of the problem and persuasion of significance along with the practicality of the proposed solution. The judges will consider whether or not the policy change is worth pursuing and evaluate the action plan as designed by the team. Stakeholder involvement, quantitative and qualitative outcome measurements, and overall presentation will count towards the judges’ decisions. The team is asking for public input in the development of their plan for clean needle exchange in Nashville.

If you have any ideas, tips, concerns, or contacts please e-mail this chapter directly at

Miranda Gottlieb
Students for Sensible Drug Policy at University of Tennessee