WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Fentanyl, the deadliest substance to ever hit our streets, is now found in the majority of street drugs. The power of it is so lethal, you no longer have to know somebody with a drug problem to encounter someone overdosing.
Now, out of necessity, policy leaders are expanding their efforts beyond prevention, by ramping up methods of harm reduction.
7 Action News reporter Ameera David takes a look at how tens of thousands of people in your own community are now being trained to be first responders on the frontlines.
The evolution of drugs has changed and accelerated in a way we couldn't have imagined. The fight against fentanyl. The grip of one of the most common drugs in overdose deaths continues to tighten.
"Happening across all demographics, all types of people," said Steve Norris with Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities.
The sobering statistics show in 2021, 2,920 people died from drug overdoses, making it the deadliest year in on record, a 9.3% increase from the year before.
Treatment options for long term users are growing but not keeping up pace with demand prompting policy leaders to take a new approach focusing on harm reduction.
"So you take it off, hold it, block one of their nostrils and then… one plunge," said a man conducting narcan training via Zoom.
That means demand for Narcan, or naloxone, the drug that can reverse an overdose, with just a simple spray into the nose has grown. Trainings on how to use this life saving tool are now in overdrive.
"Here’s how Narcan works on the brain," Norris said.
And happening in some of the most unexpected places, including schools, and the Royal Oak Public Library where I met Steve Norris, a harm reduction specialist with the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities.
Ameera asked Norris, "Why are librarians and other staffers so important to train?"
"They come in contact with the community... They’re basically at the forefront of this epidemic itself," Norris revealed.
In this new reality, an understanding that even librarians may have to assume the role of first responder. Religious leaders? Also seeing the need.
"We see widespread throughout our community," said Rabbi Jen Lader with Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
There is a walk-up/drive-thru training happening at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. In the past three years, the Alliance has educated nearly 30,000 metro Detroiters, with 15,000 of them trained this year alone.
"Those numbers show they’ve skyrocketed this year," Ameera asked Norris.
"Skyrocketed... we’re starting to get into an uncomfortable conversation people are willing to have," Norris said.
As the devastating effects on communities, in the suburbs of Detroit, continue to take hold.
"She was totally blue, not breathing no pulse," Rick Mcguffey said when describing a woman he helped save with Narcan.
It was just this past summer, Rick Mcguffey’s family was driving down Davison in Hamtramck and they spotted a woman being pulled from a car.
"Asked the boyfriend if she was overdosing and he said yes she is," Rick said while recalling that summer day.
Mcguffey sprung into action using a Narcan kit, ultimately saving her life. The irony, is that he himself, has been in long term recovery from drug use. Today he is six years sober and working to help those addicted.
"Do you think there’s a stigma around the use of Narcan?" Ameera asked Rick.
"Some people think it’s enabling," Rick replied.
Ameer asked Rick, "Do you often encounter that kind of thinking?"
"Yah that’s the mindset we’re trying to overcome right now," he replied.
The continued need to shift the stigma on the topic is what drives Norris, who has also fought his own substance abuse battle and today has to cope with immeasurable loss.
"My first loss was my best friend in April of 2020, and then another really good friend in May," Norris revealed.
In the last two years, Norris has lost seven friends and one family member to accidental overdose, prompting him to question if someone around them with knowledge of Narcan could have saved their life and afforded them the chance to get better.
"For the people that do make that choice to help themselves the impact they have on their communities, their families, it’s so amazing… when you asked about what makes me so passionate about what I do — that’s why, because I know there’s hope out there," he said.
Harm reduction organizations are looking for more volunteers to help combat the opioid/fentanyl epidemic. If you’re interested in getting involved or trained on how to use Narcan, check out the list of resources listed below.
Narcan resources in metro Detroit