GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new substance use campaign aimed at harm reduction, empathetic recovery, and providing access to resources for those still using.
The campaign utilizes video commercial spots, billboards and posts on social media with more gentle messaging than most are accustomed to in government-sponsored anti-drug campaigns.
The commercials highlight 4 different people, of multiple ages, genders and skin colors, speaking about their own past experiences using drugs and how they eventually recovered, and got into the work of community harm reduction.
"Being shown love, being shown understanding, is what brought the best out in me,” says a man named Bryce in one video.
An older man named Jesse says in another, “A lot of times there are needless loss of life, when Naloxone can help prevent overdose, using clean syringes can help prevent diseases like Hep C and HIV.”
They are a far cry from campaigns in the past that focused solely on prevention— encouraging folks to never touch a drug to begin with, and recovery— only in the sense that users were aggressively told that quitting cold turkey, and focusing on total abstinence was the only way to recover.
“We know that really speaking to people from a judgmental space doesn't necessarily help them, or push them to seek out those things that they may need," said Amy Dolinky, senior advisor for Michigan’s Opioid Strategy with the MDHHS.
“So the 'Change. At Your Own Pace' campaign is really targeted at harm reduction and prevention, and trying to really bring that human component.”
This week the CDC released data regarding the number of overdose deaths in the period spanning from December 2019 until December 2020.
The United States saw an increase of overdose deaths of 29.6%, while Michigan alone saw an increase of roughly 16.3%, according to their data.
"We recognize that the problem... has increased, not just in Michigan, but really across the country,” Dolinsky told FOX 17 on Thursday.
Billboards have gone up with the new messaging, and the commercial spots are airing. Not focused on shaming users for their struggles, but making resources readily available that will reduce their risk for harm or death.
The Health and Human Services Department is linking people up with Naloxone, a drug that, if administered while somebody is going through an opioid overdose, can reverse the effects and save their life.
They are also connecting people to clean needle exchanges and various treatment programs.
Since the state launched their Naloxone portal in June of 2020, they have already distributed over 150,000 kits to people across the state.
“I think it's really important that the state is putting out this messaging, and I think it's really important that we all kind of re-think how we've traditionally addressed substance use in the United States,” said Steephen Alsum, executive director of The Red Project Grand Rapids.
The group has been working in community harm reduction in West Michigan since 1998, facilitating many of the same types of programs the state is now connecting people with. Alsum says the new approach to messaging is essential in facilitating real safety and recovery for users.
"We've got to re-think the services that we've been providing to people, 'We've got to re-think... how we treat people,'” Alsum said Thursday.
"We really look at it as a basic human right that people have access to health-related supplies that they need to stay healthy and stay alive.”