GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan organizations are working to make opioid overdose reversal drug Narcan easier to get, adding two more vending machines where you can get it for free.

Cherry Health and the Grand Rapids Red Project partnered to install Narcan vending machines at the south entrance at Cherry Health’s Heart of the City Health Center at 100 Cherry Street SE in Grand Rapids and Cherry Health’s Montcalm Health Center at 1003 N. Lafayette Street in Greenville. The vending machines will be accessible every day, all day.

Cherry Health Director of Behavioral Health Therapy Bob Smith said the goal is to get “as much Narcan in the community as possible, really.”

“So having multiple sites throughout the community … is really important,” he continued. “We want to make this a normal medication for everyone to have. … Everyone should be having Narcan with them. You never know when you’re going to run across someone who might be having or experiencing an overdose.”

Doses have a shelf life of about 18 months.

Rachel Jantz, an epidemiologist for the Kent County Health Department, said the number of opioid-involved overdose deaths in Kent County has remained about steady in recent years. So far in 2022, there have been 63 such deaths.

“I think it speaks to the number of resources we have available in Kent County because from 2019 to 2020, the rest of the country saw over a 30% increase in those numbers where we’re just seeing real stability of those numbers,” Jantz said. “We’re not seeing a decrease but we’re not seeing an increase like the rest of the country.”

Jantz credited the distribution of naloxone, the overdose reversal drug commonly known by the name of delivery system brand Narcan, as one reason Kent County hasn’t seen the same increase as other places. The Red Project has had a Narcan vending machine at its facility on Hall Street SE at Madison Avenue for more than a year.

Free Narcan available in a vending machine at the Grand Rapids Red Project. (Dec. 6, 2022)
Free Narcan available in a vending machine at the Grand Rapids Red Project. (Dec. 6, 2022)

“So far in 2022, they (the Red Project) have distributed 6,500 nasal Narcan kits and about 1,200 intramuscular Narcan (kits),” Jantz said. “The naloxone vending machine is going to be an intranasal naloxone, so you don’t have to worry about using a syringe with that.”

The health department will soon add one of the vending machines in partnership with the Red Project.

“We will be installing a naloxone vending machine at the environmental health entrance of the Kent County Health Department (on Fuller Avenue NE), and it will be outside so it will be accessible 24/7,” Jantz said.

A dose of Narcan can cost between $40 and $170 depending on insurance coverage but the vending machines offer them for free.

“Knowing that (powerful synthetic opioid) fentanyl is ever-present in our drug supply in Kent County and across the United States as well, it’s really important that individuals who use drugs or family and friends of those individuals who use drugs equip themselves with Narcan now that it’s readily accessible,” Jantz said. “I also think the distribution of naloxone is helping to decrease stigma around the opioid epidemic and individuals who use drugs, to just make it moreso that we understand that it’s a chronic illness and one that it is treatable.”

—News 8’s Meghan Bunchman contributed to this report.