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Mich. county posts Narcan boxes to combat opioid overdoses

Oakland County Michigan Narcan Boxes.jpg

An interactive map shows the location of Narcan boxes in Oakland County.

Oakland County Health Division

By Anne Runkle
The Oakland Press

OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. — Large boxes stocked with free doses of a life-saving medication that reverses the effects of opioids are springing up all over Oakland County, with more to come in the new year.

The boxes resemble newspaper or snack vending machines and stand in front of or inside police stations, churches, libraries and other locations.

More than 80 boxes are set up as of now to distribute the kits containing the nasal spray Narcan, also known by its generic name naloxone, and instructions on how to use it.

The Oakland County Health Division and several community organizations place the boxes and monitor and refill them on a regular basis.

More than 107,000 people in the United States died of opioid overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is expected to rise this year.

The Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, which places and maintains most of the boxes, dispenses about 3,200 Narcan kits per month, said Steve Norris, director of harm reduction and recovery support.

The boxes first appeared last spring.

“It’s been an extremely successful program,” Norris said, noting that people take kits from boxes in affluent communities like Novi and Birmingham at the same rate as other areas of the county.

Although Narcan is available without a prescription at pharmacies, the appeal of the boxes is that people can access doses anonymously at a time that’s convenient to them.

“You don’t need to give someone your life story to get it,” said Kate Guzman, RN, administrator of medical services for the Oakland County Health Division.

Even though those who take the doses are unidentifiable, advocates have been made aware of lives saved as a result of the boxes, Norris said.

“We have been to scenes where it was apparent that someone likely administered Narcan then left the scene before our arrival,” said Dave DeBoer, deputy fire marshal of the West Bloomfield Fire Department.

Advocates know that people retrieve doses because they have a loved one with an addiction, but they are also taken by those who just want to be prepared if they encounter a stranger in an overdose.

Norris stressed a large share of overdose deaths are teens who were experimenting with drugs, not people with longstanding addictions.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

Kits in the boxes include test strips that allow people to test illicit drugs for fentanyl or xylazine, a veterinary sedative also known as tranq. Both increase the risk of fatal overdose and users often aren’t aware they’ve been added to the drugs they’ve obtained.

An interactive map shows where the boxes are located:

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