Several organizations across the greater Lansing area have introduced vending machines and boxes to provide the community with access to free Narcan kits in an effort to reduce opioid overdoses.
Narcan kits use a nasal spray to administer naloxone to an individual experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone stops the effects of the opiate on the brain, allowing the body to continue breathing until life-saving care arrives.
In early August, Lansing Police Department Social Worker Melissa Misner reached out to the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at the Wayne State University School of Social Work, which received a grant to implement Narcan vending machines throughout the state. By the end of the month, the LPD lobby had its own machine installed and filled with 150 Narcan kits.
Misner said implementing a free way to access Narcan kits was one of her top priorities when she started working with LPD. Before she found out about the Wayne State University grant, she considered filling a newspaper box with kits to be put in the lobby of the department.
As a member of a rapid response team, Misner said she hears radio calls for opioid overdoses every day. In the first month of having the vending machine, 58 kits were dispersed, Misner said.
“We know that Narcan can save lives, and access to Narcan can sometimes be difficult for people when they don't know where to go,” Misner said. “Seeing high rates of overdosing happening, I'm hearing calls going, we don't have Narcan, there's no Narcan on scene. And so part of it was just trying to make it accessible to anyone at any time.”
Because the LPD lobby is open 24/7, community members can get a Narcan kit for free at any time. Misner said Narcan should be viewed like any other life-saving tool and be included in first-aid kits.
“We go and learn First Aid, we learn CPR, we learn the Heimlich,” Misner said. “We learn all of these skills because we think we could save a life with it. Narcan is just one of those same tools, and we should all be carrying it because we're all first responders.”
In 2014, founder of The Fledge, Jerry Norris, began carrying Narcan regularly because his daughter suffered from a heroin and opioid addiction. When he moved The Fledge to East Lansing from Grand Rapids, he sought out more kits to give out to the community.
“In that move, we had a higher population around us that were using substances, and we were starting to see more and more overdoses,” Norris said. “We got even more stock. We really advertised and pushed that we had it and we were giving it away.”
The Fledge also started a campaign targeting buildings with public restrooms, encouraging them to carry Narcan and learn how to administer it, after Norris’ daughter died from a fentanyl overdose in the bathroom of a Quality Dairy.
Norris said access to Narcan is essential to someone surviving an opioid overdose.
“Narcan can wake you up for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before you might relapse back into that overdose,” Norris said. “And if somebody's overdosing in your house, for example, if you call an ambulance, the average time is about 10 (minutes). So they're going to be in a state where they're probably going to die, unless Narcan is there.”
The Fledge also became the home of Punks With Lunch Lansing, a nonprofit organization that provides food, personal care, clothing and harm reduction services in Lansing. Former Punks With Lunch volunteer Kelsea Hector said the organization’s co-founder, Julia Miller, led the push to make Narcan available throughout Lansing.
After noticing the lack of Narcan available on the south side of Lansing, Hector worked with Punks With Lunch to introduce a Narcan box at their church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing.
“I just went to our pastor Neal, and I was like, ‘Hey, we have this box out front that's rundown, nobody uses it, the paint is chipping on it, the door fell off, can I fix this up and put Narcan in it?’” Hector said. “And he was absolutely, 100% like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’"
Miller told Hector is was the busiest box in the city of Lansing that she has.
Hector said providing Narcan in a free, anonymous way is important in combating the stigma surrounding drug addiction. They said the public boxes and machines also start an important conversation about addiction.
“We want to keep people alive, and everyone is worthy of life,” Hector said. “And so just supplying this so that it's readily available and that people don't have to feel ashamed – it's really important.”
Norris said the stigma around opioid addiction is dangerous because it ignores that many people become addicted from prescribed pain medication.
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“The opioid epidemic is truly an epidemic, it can affect anybody,” Norris said. “We are surrounded with people that could potentially overdose and those people aren't the street drug users. It could be Grandma taking too many of her prescribed pain relievers.”
Misner said as fentanyl lacing becomes more common, even people who don’t use opioids could face an opioid overdose and need Narcan. She said her goal is to encourage safer drug use until someone is able to start recovery.
“I'm just someone out there trying to help people eventually get into recovery,” Misner said. “They may not be ready today, but they could be tomorrow. And their last time they use, they could overdose before they're ready to go into recovery and die. People are dying from this and it's unnecessary death.”
The LPD, The Fledge and the Unitarian Universalist Church are three of 11 locations throughout the greater Lansing area that supply Narcan. A map of free Narcan locations can be found through the Ingham County Health Department website.
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