MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — In 2020, according to the Red Project, there were 90,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. that year. This year, overdoses are continuing to spike across the country, including in West Michigan.
They said Muskegon County alone saw seven overdoses in one day a few weeks ago.
“During the first 10 days of September [EMS] never responded to a situation where three people have overdosed at the same time. That happened during the first 10 days in September,” said Red Project Executive Director Steven Alsum. “In all of 2019 and 2020, there were six times total — in those whole two years — that EMS responded to five overdoses in the same day. That happened four out of the first 10 days in September as well.”
Alsum said that they believe it could be due to a bad batch going around that may contain fentanyl.
“Fentanyl is an opioid substance that’s over 50 times stronger than heroin and carries some very extreme overdose risks, especially for people who don’t know what it is that they’re getting,” Alsum said during an interview at the Grand Rapids office on Wednesday. “So, a lot of folks are in the community buying what they think is heroin. They’re expecting it to be a certain strength. What they actually get is a product containing fentanyl or a different fentanyl analogue that could be a lot stronger than they’re expecting.”
So, the Red Project, which is a nonprofit organization that helps users stay safe, is hoping people will use naloxone, which reverses overdoses. They also hope that people will utilize their syringe-access program — which will allow them to obtain new, unused syringes — or ask questions about recovery services.
Alsum said at the Red Project there’s nothing to be ashamed about.
“I think it’s just another public health issue and we don’t need to attach all that stigma and judgment to it,” Alsum said. “I think a lot of times when we attach that stigma and judgment to it, that leads to people not getting the help, not getting care that they deserve, that they really need to stay alive.”