By Joe Tilton
Health Departments, such as the one in Ionia, are recognizing devastation caused by illegal drug use, with determination to do something about it.
During the monthly meeting of Families Against Narcotics, last Thursday evening in Ionia, Deb Thalison, who is the Community Health Supervisor and Substance Abuse Director in Ionia, exposed the underworld of drug abuse in our immediate area, and what her department is doing about it.
“We’re trying to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C,” she began. “If we provide clean needles, which cost us 10¢ each, we reduce the spread of diseases by 80-percent. Grand Rapids calls their program, “Red Project.”
Montcalm County is included in Ionia’s project. If Montcalm substance abusers want help or even needles, they are welcomed to travel to Ionia, or if travel is impossible, the Angel Program is available through the Michigan State Police. Walking into the Lakeview Post, for example, and asking for help will not result in an arrest, but connection to people who will respond quickly.
“Public response has been more positive than we expected,” Thalison said. “We also provide fentanyl test strips for users to be certain the deadly drug is not consumed.” Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid coming from China that is extremely deadly and being used to lace marijuana/cannabis and other substances to increase intensity of a drug-induced high. Death rates from fentanyl are dramatically up. Over half of all overdose deaths are fentanyl related.
One person attending the gathering asked if users have to turn in needle to get a new one. The answer is, “no.”
An attitude exists among some people that supplying new needles encourages drug abuse, but Thalison disputes the attitude. “We have found no increase in abuse because of this program,” she answered. Reduced medical costs in treating HIV and hepatitis C is the payoff.
The “Harm Reduction Program” is open is open for needle distribution on Thursdays from 10 to 4 in a building at 175 East Adams Street, between the Ionia Health Department and Police Station. Needles are free to users, and coming for a supply will not result in an arrest. Close-up photos of used needles showed tips bent back and dirty, making use very painful and dangerous.
Recovery Coach Tammy Curtis, promotes “Hope not Handcuffs” for substance abusers. “The brain recovers faster from heroin than methamphetamine,” she began. “We must realize how the state’s foster-care system is broken.” She was explaining how many children live in a drug-infested environment for years, and relayed how one 12-year-old had to be treated for heroin abuse. Curtis explained how recovery coaches will meet abusers at the hospital when necessary, and ready to help.
An announcement was made at the meeting indicating the Sheridan Hospital is opening a 12-bed detox unit in May.
The Families Against Narcotics meetings see attendees who are addicts, parents of children in trouble, support personnel, councilors and health professionals. The next meeting will be in Greenville the first Thursday in April.