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Knoxville anthropologist’s book aims to raise awareness of overdose crisis for women in rural Appalachia

May 5, 2020

Women in rural areas often have been left out of the narrative about the overdose crisis. Knoxville author Lesly-Marie Buer, a medical anthropologist, changes that script with her new book, “Rx Appalachia.”

Available May 5, “Rx Appalachia” combines extensive research and compelling storytelling to document the challenges facing women, families and communities in rural areas, especially Central Appalachia in Kentucky. The book can be bought locally at Union Ave Books in downtown Knoxville and directly from the publisher, Haymarket Books.

Buer hopes that her book will raise awareness about the mostly overlooked female voices of the overdose crisis and their roadblocks to wellness. For organizations working to support people who use drugs, such as Positively Living of Knoxville, the overall lack of understanding at local and legislative levels is a significant challenge to addressing the crisis.

“Rx Appalachia”

“Rx Appalachia” uses the accounts of women who use or have used prescription opioids to challenge popular misunderstandings of Appalachia and demonstrates how women, families and communities cope with the inequalities surrounding the substance abuse crisis in one of the country’s most impoverished regions. The book outlines, through the women’s voices, how to provide proven, research-backed treatments and solutions that will work. Harm reduction, mentioned throughout the book and one of the cornerstone services offered to clients at Positively Living, uses a variety of strategies and ideas to reduce the negative outcomes of drug use.

“It is my sincerest hope that the stories of these women will show why harm reduction is a critical first step to help those placed at risk,” said Buer, who serves as research director at Choice Health Network, a subsidiary program of Positively Living. “Organizations like Positively Living work tirelessly to meet people where they are and strive to make the community a better, safer place for everyone.”

Buer, an expert in the field of harm reduction and medical anthropology, holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and a graduate certificate in gender and women’s studies from the University of Kentucky and master’s degrees in anthropology and public health from the University of Colorado. A Knoxville native, Buer is passionate about the region and is donating 100% of the book’s proceeds to the Hellbender Fund, which supports harm reduction efforts in Appalachia.

In her capacity as research director at Choice Health Network, Buer ensures Positively Living offers practical strategies and access to quality treatment methods that meet the individualized needs of clients. Her work at Choice Health Network spans a variety of services, all rooted in providing nonjudgmental care to East Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations.

To learn more about how Positively Living provides compassionate care to empower, promote and inspire wellness, visit

About Positively Living

Positively Living is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1997 to support individuals living with HIV. Today the company provides medical services through the Choice Health Network medical clinic along with prevention, case management, mental health, harm reduction and supportive housing services. Program staff work together to provide compassionate care, treatment services and disease prevention to Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations: individuals struggling to survive the challenges created by HIV, homelessness, mental illness, addiction, and disabilities. The company is based in Knoxville and has locations in Chattanooga and Memphis.