A new vending machine now stands outside the Ann Arbor District Library that dispenses free Narcan, the brand-name version of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, according to an April 1 tweet from AADL Director Eli Neiburger. The vending machine was installed by Home of New Vision, an organization devoted to supporting those with substance abuse issues.
According to Rackham student Derek Frasure, policy director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the University of Michigan, the vending machine supplies resources that could be vital in saving someone’s life.
“(The vending machine) is something that can mitigate that tide of deaths, which has currently outpaced car accidents for common fatalities,” Frasure said.
Lieutenant Mike Scherba of the Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) said that in 2021, the AAPD received a total of 68 calls recorded in their system as drug overdoses in Ann Arbor, which averages out to about one call per week. While all AAPD officers and supervisors are required to carry naloxone, Scherba said the vending machine has the potential to create faster distribution of the drug to those experiencing an overdose.
“Provided that the person has the ability to administer (naloxone) properly, I think the potential, at least, is there for faster administration,” Scherba said.
Public Policy graduate student Alyshia Dyer is a former law enforcement officer for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office and a member of SSDP. Dyer said she has responded to many previous 911 calls involving an overdose and expressed how critical naloxone is in overdose situations.
“The times that I’ve used naloxone, it really felt like you were saving someone’s life, because it wasn’t looking good before that,” Dyer said. “It showed me how important it was to make naloxone readily available.”
Dyer also said quick administration of naloxone was integral to ensuring the recovery of the person overdosing, and that by making naloxone readily available, the community was saving lives.
“I have done research on opioid response in Michigan, and basically, making naloxone widely available is one of the best public health initiatives that you can do to save people’s lives,” Dyer said.
Though the vending machine can provide quicker access to naloxone, Scherba said the primary concern with its installment is that it could create a false sense of security among those experiencing substance abuse.
“(People who are witnessing an overdose) may not call for help as soon as they could or would have otherwise, which could potentially put the user at risk,” Scherba said.
However, Brianna Dobbs, Recovery Opioid Overdose Team coordinator for Home of New Vision and coordinator for the vending machine project, expressed that the vending machine will help beyond just saving lives.
“Having (the vending machine) in such a public place will raise awareness, reduce barriers and increase access to a life-saving medication,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs added that Home of New Vision is trying to decrease the stigma around naloxone, as it is not just to be given to those experiencing substance abuse. Dobbs emphasized naloxone can also be used in cases when prescribed medication is inadvertently misadministered. She said every household should have naloxone in their first aid kit.
“People can have an opioid overdose because they took too much of a prescription medication, they read the bottle wrong or a small child gets into someone’s medication,” Dobbs said.
As for the future, Home of New Vision hopes to expand the vending machines to other libraries in Washtenaw County. Dobbs said they are trying to expand these vending machines to the areas in Washtenaw County that experience the most overdoses. The organization told The Daily that their priority is challenging the stigma around drug overdoses, and there is still more to do.
“I think there’s so much that can be done,” Dobbs said. “I think the starting point is to provide empathy and passion and support for people.”
Daily Staff Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.