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Detroit "Narcanvass" event provides addiction resources, highlights racial disparities in fatal overdoses

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Members of the group Michigan Liberation went door-to-door in a Detroit neighborhood on Wednesday, highlighting fatal overdoses in the community and providing resources to help prevent them.

That neighborhood on the city’s east side has one of the highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in Michigan. The group called the event a "Narcanvass," passing out bags with the anti-opioid overdose drug Narcan, and test strips that detect the dangerously powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl in street drugs.

Ash Daniels, who heads Michigan Liberation’s Care not Criminalization campaign, said the group wants to provide practical tools and resources to people struggling with addiction.

Daniels said that incarcerating people who use drugs is not only ineffective, it’s counterproductive.

“And actually, statistically speaking, when folks who are in recovery go to jail, get clean or whatever you want to call it, come back home, that's when they have the highest risk of overdose,” she said.

Daniels said the group also advocates for safe syringe exchange programs, and safe consumption sites for people who use drugs.

“People could go somewhere and do whatever drug that they choose to use, and have some kind of supervision in case they overdose,” she said. “Then somebody will be there to help bring them back.”

The group highlighted racial disparities in who experiences fatal overdoses. According to state data, from September 2021-August 2022, 2,670 died by overdose in Michigan, with Black Michiganders dying from overdoses at more than twice the rate of whites.

Daniels said opioids have ravaged predominantly Black communities for a long time, but it wasn’t seen as a wider societal problem that deserved attention until “more young white people started dying. That's when it became an issue.”

Daniels believes recognizing that fact is key to getting the right kinds of resources to people experiencing addition—such as the nearly $800 million Michigan received from a multi-state opioid settlement with drug makers and pharmacies—to the people who need it most. “First, they need to address the harms that came from the War on Drugs,” she said, “which led to how some of these communities are now.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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