KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Two nonprofits in Kalamazoo partnered to provide free lifesaving resources to the community Saturday after a string of deadly fentanyl overdoses.
On Thursday, the Kalamazoo County Health Department reported at least 18 overdoses and six deaths in a 24-hour span.
“It’s going to take a village, this is all hands on deck, this is an unprecedented time in Kalamazoo’s history,” said Gwendolyn Hooker, the founder of nonprofit HOPE thru Navigation.
For Hooker, the impact of fentanyl is personal.
“We have lost two family members due to overdoses on fentanyl,” Hooker said.
After recent fentanyl overdoses that claimed six lives in Kalamazoo County, five within the city of Kalamazoo, Hooker’s organization teamed with another local nonprofit, COPE Network, to get into the community and provide help.
On Saturday, the organizations handed out free Narcan kits outside of North Pole Party Store on the city’s north side.
“We’re in the neighborhoods where the vast majority of the overdoses occurred, really trying to intentionally reach out to people that are in active addiction or know someone that is in active addiction,” Hooker said.
Each kit contained items like fentanyl testing strips and Narcan nasal spray, which helps reverse an overdose.
“We know that some of the folks that actually survived the overdoses this past week survived due to them having Narcan kits readily available,” Hooker said.
COPE Network covers eight counties in Southwest Michigan and has distributed more than 14,000 Narcan kits over the years. During Saturday’s event, the organization’s founder Nancy King provided educational sessions on how to properly use the resource.
“That could be the difference between them using it correctly and being able to save a life and just using it and not having knowledge about what they’re doing,” King said.
For King, the situation is also personal, after losing her daughter to a heroin overdose in 2012. She said it’s time for the discussion surrounding substance use to change.
“If people are going to use drugs and alcohol, we need them to help them do it safely and to be able to respect that they’re going to use drugs and alcohol but we don’t want people to die,” King said.
She hopes that the most recent overdoses shine a light on a serious problem plaguing the community.
“We have overdoses every day. So hopefully what we see from this is not just like, ‘Ope, Monday everything’s gone,’ but this continued concern and thought and understanding,” King said.
Additional Narcan giveaways have been planned for coming days: On April 18, weather permitting, HOPE thru Navigation will be on Paterson Street near Burdick Street, across from the Family Health Center, from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. On April 25, the group will be at the HOPEtN at Westnedge Park on S. Westnedge Avenue and Park Place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Find more information on the group’s Facebook page.
People in the Kalamazoo area struggling with substance abuse can reach out to Integrated Services of Kalamazoo at 269.373.6000 or Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health at 800.781.0353.
You can also call the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1.800.662.HELP (4357) or find treatment on SAMHSA’s websit