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Grand Rapids non-profit distributes free Narcan in vending machine

Experts say access to Narcan is very important in fighting the opioid epidemic.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A West Michigan non-profit has a new way of distributing Narcan, the drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

Vending machines are usually stocked with chips, candy or soda, but one in Grand Rapids is stocked with the life-saving medicine.

"We can only be here 9 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday," said Nick DeHaan, the Overdose Outreach Coordinator with the Red Project, which is located at 401 Hall St SE. 

DeHaan needed to keep up with the 24/7 need in the community for Narcan.

"I'd hate to see somebody have an overdose and not be able to survive that overdose because their access to Naloxone is restricted," he said. 

The non-profit got the vending machine through a grant through Wayne State University, which DeHaan says plans to put about a dozen more across the state. 

Opioid-related overdoses are up this year in Grand Rapids, more than in all of 2020. Experts say access to Narcan is very important in fighting the epidemic.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department keeps track of how many times Narcan was administered by everyone on a call:

  • 171 times in 2020.
  • 217 times in 2021.

Capt. Stephen MacBride supports getting Narcan in the hands of the people who need it.

"I would say just in the past several years, we've had 25% of the time, a bystander or friend administer the medication before we arrive on scene," he said. 

DeHaan said access to Narcan can dramatically bring down overdose rates so he's hoping the vending machine will save lives.

The Red Project put the vending machine outside their building on Friday and DeHaan said it was empty when they checked it Monday morning.

They're hoping to put it somewhere in the downtown area indoors where it's temperature controlled and where it'll be easily accessible.

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