Red Project expands overdose prevention efforts
A Grand Rapids agency on the front lines of heroin and other opioid overdose prevention has expanded into additional west Michigan counties – and law enforcement.
"Overdose is a huge public epidemic right now."
Steve Alsum is the executive director of the Grand Rapids Red Project, a harm reduction and advocacy agency.
"It’s killing more people than car accidents," he says. "It’s an issue that affects a much wider segment of our community than what we typically think of [as] at-risk for overdose."
Since 2013, Alsum says the Red Project has given close to 2,500 trainings, along with naloxone response kits, in the Grand Rapids area - a medication that can safely and effectively reverse an opioid overdose.
That's saved about 300 lives.
"And that’s an absolute minimum number of the times this medication has actually been used by community members in Kent County," Alsum says. "Because that’s only the number that’s been reported back to us, and our reporting system is entirely voluntary."
Both numbers are likely on the rise, as the Red Project branches out into Allegan, Ottawa and Muskegon counties, including drop-in naloxone training hours at several locations.
They’ve also provided workshops with other agencies in the state interested in offering trainings and kits to their clients.
And they've been working with police – which until more recently, may have seemed an odd bedfellow in the drawn lines of drug use and enforcement.
Alsum says they’ve performed more than 20 law enforcement trainings in the state, including the eight-county southwest Michigan region, since December.
First Lieutenant Mike Dawson of the Michigan State Police Niles post says it’s a vitally important tool. His team and other local police officers attended a recent Red Project training.
"Especially in rural areas, police officers are the first ones on scene when there’s a medical emergency," Dawson says. "And with the numerous heroin overdoses or opiate overdoses we’re having in the area … they’re giving us a life-saving tool that we can use before the paramedics show up."
All posts inside the Michigan State Police are expected to undergo some form of training this year.
Many municipal departments across the state and locally have also adopted naloxone kits and use policies or are reviewing the idea – the latter including the Grand Rapids Police Department.