By Allison Booth
Twenty-year-old Gavin Bechtol witnessed a young man overdosing on heroin during his routine work delivery in the Vine neighborhood.
As Bechtol recalled the incident, the young man was lying on the ground, eyes rolling back in his head, turning purple. Meanwhile, the young man’s companion stood by, witnessing the crisis but not calling for help.
Bechtol called first responders and the young man survived.
The incident, which Bechtol said happened three years ago, highlights two ongoing problems in Kalamazoo County: opioid overdoses and a fear of calling for help when the overdose is occurring.
According to the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner’s Office, opioid overdose deaths in Kalamazoo County have more than doubled over the past two years, resulting in more opioid deaths than auto accident deaths. The number of opioid-related deaths has risen from 33 to 72 in the past two years. Kalamazoo County has seen an over 50-percent increase in opioid-related deaths and opioid-related hospital visits.
Opioid overdose has always been a concern, but due to reaching an all-time high within the last year, Kalamazoo county’s non-profit Prevention Works is focusing on teaching people the dangers of opioid abuse and help those struggling with addiction get into proper care.
Ashley Bergon is the program coordinator at Prevention Works. She believes many opioid addictions begin with a doctor writing a prescription. Prevention Works has a task force that aims to educate doctors on the risks that go along with opioid use. Opioids include common prescription pain-relief drugs.
“We are taught to measure how we feel at hospitals by pain and we are not teaching people proper pain-management techniques,” said Bergon.
Prevention Works has been focusing on educating doctors to teach patients proper main management and avoiding the use of opioid-related pain management.
In 2016, the Michigan legislature passed a law to protect drug users who overdose and the friends who help them by calling for medical assistance. The law allows those calling for help to avoid being prosecuted for drug use in an effort to prevent unnecessary deaths.
The drug Naloxone reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and is available in injectable form or as a nasal spray. First responders in Kalamazoo are able to administer this drug as necessary. In addition, friends and family of addicts are able to obtain this drug with prescriptions due to a bill signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder in 2016.