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In 2011, in response to the growing substance use epidemic, a group of 20 community members, including individuals from law enforcement, healthcare, human services and treatment providers, collaborated to form the Burke Substance Abuse Network (BSAN).  Their task was to work together to find a way to combat the disease and save the residents of their community.  Eventually, BSAN became a major component of a county-wide project called the Burke Wellness Initiative which, as one of many projects, facilitates the research for and composes the community health needs assessment.  After 9 years, the objective of BSAN has remained the same.  Though Burke County is rural, with less than 90,000 people calling the land nestled in the foothills of Western NC home, there was a desire to inspire hope and save lives.  


In 2019, a group of community members met and brainstormed for hours regarding available resources, gaps, needs and innovative solutions.  They discussed the ways in which addiction had changed the community, causing havoc and pain at every turn.  It was also a silent impact because it was the “elephant in the room” everyone was scared to address.  The group unanimously agreed the response to overcoming the disease is recovery, which is often symbolized by a purple ribbon.  Developing a way in which everyone could be on board with understanding the disease and working together to help those affected was paramount and thus the Purple Elephant Program was born.


Fast forward a few months and the development team, who consistently provide support for BSAN initiatives, organized a community input session wherein community members, providers, and other interested parties came together to inform the detailed aspects of the program as well as obtain the first training.  Using the feedback from the attendees as well as information gleaned from consulting with treatment providers and community members, the development team created the comprehensive packet and introduced the Purple Elephant Program to the community.


The concept is simple…

  1.  Organizations, agencies, businesses, faith partners, etc. who want to engage in addressing the substance use obstacles in the community can start by helping one person at a time.

  2. They contact the development team and schedule a training.

  3. A team member provides materials, curriculum and a presentation that allows the participant to have a comprehensive approach to someone who comes in and expresses three words: “I need help.”

  4. Once training is completed, the participating agency is then labeled as a Purple Elephant Safe Haven and is connected to resources who will serve as reinforcements to continue the process started in the Safe Havens.


Substance use and misuse have become more than a battle.  It is a war that ravages the communities where we live, learn, work, play and pray.  Recovery begins on the front lines of every battle fought in that war and it is because of partners who want to make a difference that we are able, as a community, to save our community - it is because of people like you. 

If you would like to implement a tailored Purple Elephant Program in your community or would like additional information, reach out to Brandi Greer with the Drug-Free Burke team.

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