GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Already this year, 46 people in Kent County have died from drug overdoses. That is a number the Red Project would like to see go down.
The Red Project, among other things, trains people to administer a drug called Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to people who have overdosed on drugs.
Narcan has been around since 1971, but according to Red Project Executive Director Stephen Alsum, not enough people are aware of the drug or know how to administer it.
"There's almost a hundred people dying a year in Kent County that do not need to die if they had access to this medication," Alsum said.
In May, Target 8 exposed how widespread a problem heroin-related deaths is in Kent County.
And it's not the only drug causing deaths in the county.
"Overdose is currently the leading cause of accidental fatality of all people age zero to 65 in Kent County," Alsum said.
The Red Project has trained more than 500 people to administer the medication since 2008. Since then, more than 115 have come back, saying they used the medication and it saved someone's life.
"We really encourage people to train their family members in how to use this medication in case they overdose. Train their friends in how to use this medication in case they overdose. Our goal is really to make this information and medication as widely available in the community so if somebody does overdose, there's somebody whose been trained in how to respond there to save their life," Alsum said.
Alsum said overdoses from opiate use in general is a huge issue all over -- something he thinks could change if more people were equipped with Narcan.
"There are far, far too many people dying from overdoses in Kent County because they do not have access to medication," Alsum said.
Red Project gives the drug away for free. It's funded by Network180, a government-funded organization.
Kendra Shuck is among those who has been saved by the drug after a 2006 overdose.
"I overdosed on methadone the first time I used methadone and Narcan was used on me. It saved my life," she said.
Shuck said she started drinking when she was just 13 years old then started using drugs at age 24. Ultimately, she became addicted to crack cocaine.
"I ended up losing my career because of drugs," she said. "At that point, became homeless and when I became homeless is when I was introduced to crack cocaine. And that just devastated my life."
Shuck was a physician's assistant.
"I ended up losing my license to practice. I ended up going to prison. When I went to prison, like I said, that was my wake up call. I realized how sick emotionally I was. I realized how bad my drug addiction was. I didn't realize this when I was on the street. I didn't realize how sick I was because I was so wrapped up into my addiction," Shuck said.
Shuck has been sober for one month now, but the road has not been easy.
"It's not easy," she said. "It takes a lot of work. If you get involved in the program and start making friends and realizing there is a different way of life, there really is. That you don't have to live on the street and you don't have to use drugs every day and be homeless, and you know you can get your family back. You can have your own place to stay."
She is no longer homeless.
"I have my own apartment. I have clothes -- clean clothes. I brush my teeth every day. I shower every day," she said. "I have my family back. My sister is my best friend again. Her and I didn't talk. I am able to see my niece and my nephew. I love them to death."
Ideally, Alsum says they would like to see Narcan in every home in Kent County.
"Anybody who uses an opiate-based medication or has had a history of opiate use should have a Naloxone recovery kit in their household," Alsum said.
According to Alsum, the drug is safe and not dangerous if administered to someone who wasn't using drugs.
"It's a very, very safe, very effective medication that can cause no harm, but could potentially save somebody's life in an overdose situation," Alsum said.
The Red Project
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