Naloxone machines and other harm reduction efforts aim to reduce Ypsi-area opioid overdose deaths

Ypsi-area residents can now find free naloxone and fentanyl test strips at vending machines throughout the city and township of Ypsilanti. 
Across the country, public health departments are working to address the growing opioid crisis through harm reduction – or minimizing the negative effects of opioid use – and Washtenaw County is no exception. Numerous organizations have provided naloxone (an opioid overdose-reversing drug also known as Narcan) and associated training on how to use it, but Ypsi-area residents can now find free naloxone and fentanyl test strips at vending machines throughout the city and township of Ypsilanti. 

"The main thing that is important to us is that we can be a place where people can go for these life-saving solutions," says Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) Community Relations Coordinator Sam Killian about YDL’s recently installed naloxone vending machines. "The most important aspect to us is the opportunity to provide something that can literally save lives."

All of YDL’s branches have a vending machine, but Killian explains that YDL’s staff has been equipped with naloxone for staff to handle emergencies since 2019.
Ypsilanti District Library Community Relations Coordinator Sam Killian.
"This is something that is pretty important to us," Killian says. "We are a community connector, and when we have opportunities to connect people in the community to resources other folks are providing, that is certainly something we love to help with."

YDL partners with Ann Arbor nonprofit addiction treatment center Home of New Vision to keep their vending machines stocked. Killian views the partnership as an extension of the library’s goal of being a safe space where community members can not just check out books, but receive advice and direction to other resources throughout the community.

"The great thing about having multiple branches is being able to get things closer to where people are," Killian says. "When there’s an opportunity to bring solutions like these closer to home, that’s always a great opportunity."
Home of New Vision’s Chris Sudduth with a naloxone vending machine at YDL's Whittaker Road branch.
Home of New Vision provides free naloxone through the Washtenaw Recovery Advocacy Project (WRAP), allowing individuals and organizations to order free naloxone for delivery. WRAP's website also offers educational tools about what an overdose looks like and how to administer naloxone in an emergency. Chris Sudduth, Home of New Vision’s director of community initiatives, says WRAP and the Recovery Opioid Overdose Team (ROOT) at Home of New Vision are working to reduce stigma around drug use and treat and prevent overdoses with a non-judgemental approach.

"We try to fill in any gaps and reach people in all different demographics and different areas of their life," Sudduth says. "We don’t care how many times you need to use naloxone. We preach harm reduction and if you don’t choose recovery that day, that’s okay."

While Home of New Vision’s primary facility is in Ann Arbor, an Ypsilanti location opened last summer. Sudduth says building partnerships in Ypsi has allowed Home of New Vision to extend its resources more easily to Ypsi residents and continue to spread harm reduction tactics.

"We see the disparities between Ann Arbor and Ypsi, and we wanted to bridge the gap between transportation and having more services in Ypsi," Sudduth says. "It’s been great to find other partners through this."

One of those partners is the Washtenaw County Health Department, which has also emphasized harm reduction and recovery when it comes to drug use. Through the It Is Possible campaign, which launched in 2020 and also reaches Lenawee, Livingston, and Monroe counties, the health department hopes to reduce stigma surrounding addiction, making it easier to discuss the subject and seek help.
A naloxone vending machine at YDL's Whittaker Road branch.
Washtenaw County Health Department Communications Coordinator Beth Ann Hamilton says that although the campaign doesn’t directly provide resources, it does often point individuals in the direction of naloxone vending machines and other methods of receiving free naloxone, as well as materials on where to find resources and how to use naloxone effectively.

"In a perfect world, addiction wouldn’t be a thing, but it is and we know it’s a serious illness," Hamilton says. "Having these tools and being able to meet people where they’re at, so they are as safe as possible, is revolutionary to me."

Hamilton says that it’s "too early" to tell how much naloxone availability has affected overdose statistics, but as of 2022 Washtenaw County had a lower average of reported overdose deaths compared to the rest of the country. She also explains that a number of the recovery stories shared through the It Is Possible campaign mentioned naloxone saving lives and allowing those in active addiction to more safely reach a point where they can recover.

"We want to reduce stigma and share more about what addiction means and why harm reduction is important," Hamilton says. "Having this resource available leads to safer use and fewer people dying."

To see a list of naloxone vending machines, visit the Washtenaw County Health Department’s website. Free materials supporting harm reduction and recovery for the It Is Possible campaign can also be found on the health department website

"The opioid crisis is only getting worse, and an overdose can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone," Sudduth says. "Having the ability to save someone’s life or even just knowing the option is there, it gives me peace of mind."

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photos by Doug Coombe.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.