November unofficially declared ‘Overdose Awareness Month’ in Grand Rapids

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Adderall, as pictured above, is one of the most widely abused perscription drugs on college campuses nationwide.

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Adderall, as pictured above, is one of the most widely abused perscription drugs on college campuses nationwide.

Megan Webster

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, more than 64,000 people died due to drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016. The problem of drug overdose isn’t just a number—it’s prevalent right in our own backyard. 

In response to an increased number of overdose deaths in Grand Rapids, Matthew’s House Ministry has declared the month of November “Overdose Awareness Month” for the Grand Rapids area. 

Matthew’s House is dedicating an entire month to overdose prevention and assistance, during which time the organization will be working with the community intensely. Reginald Lott, program design and implementation coordinator at Matthew’s House, said in relation to national numbers for overdoses, Grand Rapids is host to the highest overdose rate in all of Michigan.

“The United States accounts for 20 to 25 percent of overdoses worldwide,” Lott said. “The state of Michigan ranks about number six. Grand Rapids has the highest overdose rate in Kent County, which has the highest overdose rate in Michigan.” 

As a result of these startling numbers, Matthew’s House is partnering up with numerous organizations across Grand Rapids to spread awareness about this issue. One of the events they will host will take place Thursday, Nov. 2, at Richmond Reformed Church, focusing on bringing awareness, services and treatments for drug-related problems, such as addiction and overdose. 

The event, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., will include multiple speakers, a provided meal, networking activities and overdose-training workshops. This event will be targeted toward those either dealing with a drug-abuse problem or individuals who have a family member who needs help, but anyone in the community is welcome to join. 

Another part of the event will be learning how to identify and help someone who is in the process of overdosing. Lott said through personal experience, he understands the importance of identification and early treatment. He described an instance where an individual was overdosing within their facilities.

“After he was treated, he told us that he very close to death but this brought him back,” Lott said. “So, we thought that it would be truthful to us and to the people in the community to understand what an overdose looks like, as well as how to treat it. The Red Project does a good job at assisting people at identifying someone who is an overdoser, as well as the treatment that could save their life.” 

The Grand Rapids Red Project, Families Against Narcotics, the Grand Rapids Police Department, Exodus Place, Teen Challenge, Richmond Reformed Church, Narcotics Anonymous and Clique Bowling Lanes are all coming together to make this event as successful and impactful as possible. 

“We’re all partnering to bring not only awareness but services and treatments to those who are current drug users,” Lott said. 

Brandon Hool, director of clean works, overdose prevention and response programming at the Red Project, said these initiatives will allow people to gain the resources they need to become aware of opioid addiction and overdose.

“My hope is that an increased amount of people will become aware of the resources available in the community for those using opioids,” Hool said. “Overdose is the number-one cause of accident-related fatality in Kent County. Prescription opioid overdose has driven the dramatic rise in overdose over the last 15 years.”

He also emphasized that a major trend in Grand Rapids in terms of overdosing is the misuse of prescription medication, half of which has been prescribed by a doctor. 

“Our hope is that this event will also bring awareness to the fact that many people at risk of overdose may not even realize it,” Hool said. “They may not identify as an ‘addict’ or ‘drug user’ and may believe that the medication their doctor has given them is completely safe.”

Lott said this event, and the month in general, is not only important because of the rising overdose numbers in Grand Rapids but also because drug addiction is truly a disease that requires just as much attention, assistance and training as any other illness. 

“Just like diabetes and hypertension, an overdose death is a very preventable death,” Lott said. “We need to assist those who are at risk of killing themselves, expecting some type of euphoric feeling or a high, and it turns out to be a loss of a life. To those families that have lost a loved one to an overdose death, they may never fully be comfortable because they don’t understand that the use of drugs sometimes it’s compulsory. 

“The areas of the brain that are affected by schizophrenia and bipolarism, as well as OCD, these areas of the brain are affected by drug use. I don’t think that when people get involved with drugs that they understand the depth of the harm that they are doing to themselves.” 

To learn more about this event or other events for Overdose Awareness Month, contact Lott at [email protected] or visit the Matthew’s House and Red Project websites for announcements on future events.