by Stephen Alsum
According to data from the Kent County Medical Examiner, drug overdoses are the second leading cause of accidental death of all people under the age of sixty-five in Kent County, Michigan. The only thing that causes more accidental deaths of people under the age of sixty-five than drug overdoses in Kent County is automobile accidents.
This data is confirmed by the Center for Disease Control. In 2005, almost five times as many people died from narcotic (opiate) overdoses in Kent County as died by drowning or submersion in water. More than fifteen times as many people died from narcotic overdose than by exposure to smoke, fire and/or flames. More people died from narcotic overdose than from all different types of assault combined. Kent County has a problem. It is not a problem we hear about very often, but it is a problem nonetheless. Kent County has a problem with people overdosing and dying from drugs, specifically opiates.
So what can we do about this? In order to reduce fatality from automobile accidents, these things called seat belts were invented. When we get in the car hopefully we wear them, thereby reducing potential harm that may befall us. When we swim there is often a lifeguard present; someone to help us if we begin to falter. To protect against fatality by fire or smoke inhalation, we have the fire department and they do a good job of putting out fires once they’ve started. So what about fatality from opiate overdoses, how can we reduce that?
One way to reduce fatality from opiate overdoses, if you are going to use opiates, is much like wearing a seat belt if you are going to drive in a car. It is a preventative measure: know what it is that you are using, and if you don’t, test it out first. Be careful though, lots of people die from illegal opiates in Kent County, but lots of people overdose on prescription opiates such as methadone too. Another way to prevent fatality from overdose is to always make sure someone else is present when you use. It is safer to swim with a lifeguard present; it is safer to use drugs when another person is there. If no one is present when you use, there will be no one there to call 911, and there will be no one to intervene if you should happen to overdose. Finally, much like the fire department puts out fires once they’ve started, get trained in how to recognize and intervene in opiate overdoses.
The Clean Works Harm Reduction Program in downtown Grand Rapids has recently started training people who actively use drugs in preventing, recognizing and intervening in opiate overdoses. Overdose is the second leading cause of accidental death of all people aged zero to sixty-five in Kent County; obviously training solely in the hands of paramedics and emergency room personnel has not worked. Sometimes the paramedics do not arrive in time, and sometimes they are never called. Clean Works is training the true first responders, people who use drugs, in how to prevent, recognize and intervene in opiate overdoses. Come to Clean Works and we can train you. If you have friends who could take advantage of one of the many services we offer, send them in. Besides for overdose prevention and intervention trainings, in the interest of public health we offer free confidential syringe exchange and a variety of safer sex supplies to help prevent the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis-C and other blood borne viruses.
For more information, contact Clean Works:
54 S. Division
Monday & Thursday, 6-8pm