Overdoses have been on a sharp rise in the US over the past two decades.
Since 1999, overdose deaths have quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2021, the US surpassed 100,000 overdose deaths. It’s an epidemic far from new, and far from over.
Harm Reduction — a non-profit focused on reducing substance use-related harm — is working to prevent overdose deaths by partnering with locations that can stock Narcan (Naloxone), a prescription used to reverse a suspected overdose.
One of those locations is The Foothills of Glen Arbor Motel and Cafe in Leelanau County. Recently, they set up a free and discreet cubby outside their café for people to grab Narcan with no questions asked.
Foothills’ co-owner, Shari Bernstein, says several people have already grabbed individual boxes of the prescription. It’s a resource she’s more than willing to provide.
“I’ve probably buried about five people over the last few years that have overdosed,” says Bernstein. “It’s escalated so much and it’s just it’s nonstop every day. It’s someone else you hear about that basically overdosed.”
Bernstein’s experience working as licensed master’s level therapists in drug treatment gave her an up close look at the affects of drug use, and its deadly consequence.
The same can be said for her former colleague, Pam Lynch, who is now the executive director of Harm Reduction based in Traverse City and Petoskey.
Lynch says that people often suffering emotionally or mentally will find ways to cope that can often lead to substances like drugs or alcohol. It’s a trend that unfortunately can be seen in the number of drug overdose deaths seen between 2020-2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I know specifically of overdose cases, in Grand Traverse County specifically, where people were pretty devastated to not be able to put food on the table for their families,” says Lynch. “When a lot of drug use or alcohol is used, it’s really a coping skill.”
But in the search for drugs like opioids, people can often be exposed to illicit drugs — those driving the epidemic — such as fentanyl and methamphetamines.
Lynch says two weeks ago, during the Michigan Harm Reduction Conference, Michigan State Police shared that only 3 percent of drug samples confiscated since the beginning of 2022 contained heroin. The other 97 percent contained mostly fentanyl.
It’s a startling statistic that only further drives Lynch’s work to make Narcan more accessible in locations in Leelanau, Antrim Counties and sheriff’s offices in Wexford and Manistee.
“We really have to start thinking outside the box on how to make solutions available to people, because the answer is not just to keep letting people die,” she says.
But to provide access at convenient and discreet locations means partnerships and funding.
Lynch says the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services awarded harm reduction funding, Tuesday morning, to supply more Narcan. But it will take more people, like Bernstein, to make them available to the public.