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TPAN's HOTTER program serves African-American men
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Erica Demarest, Windy City Times

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The Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) will expand its programming this month with HOTTER, a weekly therapy group that merges substance abuse and mental health treatment.

"There are a lot of people who might go get treatment for alcoholism, but if somebody's not helping them learn that they have anxiety or depression—and that they're self-medicating because of it—then you're missing the whole problem," said Julie Supple, director of client services.

"Substance abuse and mental health are intertwined," Supple continued. "If they're not treated together, then it's really hard for people to succeed."

The longstanding HIV/AIDS agency will fund HOTTER (Healthy Outcomes Through Treatment, Empowerment and Recovery) with a $2.5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

African-American men who have sex with men (ages 18-29) are welcome to join the free weekly meet-ups, which offer peer support, HIV-testing and off-site care when needed.

"[This group] gives people the opportunity to look at their habits," said Jonathan Mitchell, lead project specialist. "A lot of us think that to have a drug problem, you have to be down and out, homeless… But a lot of people function. There are people with drug and alcohol problems who have jobs and families. They haven't hit their bottom, and we want to get them before they do."

HOTTER coordinators are recruiting heavily on the South and West Sides, targeting populations that typically lack access to care.

"There's still a hidden stigma attached to HIV in communities of color," said Charlotte Moore, TPAN's substance abuse program manager.

Moore noted that online surveys and social media have been popular recruitment tools because they allow a degree of anonymity.

"We still have a lot of issues within ourselves—whether it's religion, our families [or] our sexuality," Mitchell said. "A lot of us don't want to admit that we sleep with men, or that we sleep with men and women. A lot of us don't want to admit that we drink a six-pack a night. It's not us telling you that you might have an issue. It's you telling yourself. Once you can admit it to yourself, you can take a step to change it."

HOTTER meets Mondays and Wednesdays starting in February; new participants are welcome to join at any time. TPAN will offer ongoing relapse counseling and one-on-one support.

To learn more, contact Charlotte Moore (773-989-9400, ext. 280) or Jonathan Mitchell (773-989-9400, ext. 273).

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and Chicago Lakeshore Hospital have partnered with TPAN for this project.

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