LANSING, Mich. — Carsyn Velasquez is a volunteer at Lansing Syringe Access. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, she gives out kits with tourniquets, cookers, alcohol swabs and naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdose.
It's a strategy known as harm reduction, focusing on reducing the negative effects of drug abuse, rather than eliminating drug use.
State data shows it helps.
"I know it's making a difference in Lansing," said Velasquez. "We're not trying to have anybody's life choices made for them, but we are trying to make sure that you do get to choose what you do with your life."
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services's 2020 Opioid Task Force Report says that naloxone distribution decreases overdose deaths and that research suggests syringe service programs like Lansing Syringe Access have benefits on top of overdose reduction, including referring thousands of people to treatment programs.
"Right now we’re trying to figure out places where we can get more [naloxone], because we go through it so quick," said Velasquez.
Shew was once paid as an employee. Now, she's technically a volunteer, harm reduction kits for free.
In Michigan, Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone, can be bought over the counter with an ID for $147.99.
Velasquez said, when she does give out Narcan, "I try to keep in touch with people and ask if they’ve had any successful reversals with it. For the most part, we get maybe five to eight a week, something like that."
Amy Dolinky is the senior adviser for Michigan Opioid Strategy. Asked if making nalaxone drug kits available encourages drug use, she said it doesn't.
"What we know is that it's something that is going to allow folks to then be connected to resources, whatever resources that they may need," she said.
Knowing that, her Opioid Strategy Team started the Nalaxone Portal, and partnered with NEXT Nalaxone, resources that allow organizations and individuals in Michigan to order nalaxone kits for themselves.
"And since that started in June of 2020, the portal specifically, there have been over 100,000 naloxone kits distributed," Dolinky said.
In previous years Lansing Syringe Access had grant money to pay volunteers like Velasquez and to buy harm reduction supplies for their kits. That grant money has run out. Now Lansing Syringe relies completely on donations.
The organization gives out harm reduction kits from noon to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the L.A.A.N. Building, 913 W. Holmes Road in Lansing.
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