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New Projects to Reduce Overdose Deaths Announced in Michigan

With support from Governor Whitmer, law enforcement, state health officials, and harm reduction groups, programs will increase access to lifesaving medications in hospitals and jails, increase distribution of naloxone, and expand syringe service programs.

(Michigan, USA)—Today, Vital Strategies announced a new round of projects in a $10 million dollar commitment to Michigan to strengthen the state’s ability to respond to the crisis of overdose. This effort is at the forefront of a national trend to adopt health-focused, harm reduction strategies and move away from punitive responses to substance use. It is part of a three-year, $50 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies to help hard-hit states reduce overdose deaths.

Funding and technical assistance will go to a variety of statewide and local efforts in Michigan, including harm reduction organizations, professional and community groups, government agencies, and hard-hit communities. These upcoming projects will:

  • Expand access to methadone and buprenorphine in state prisons;
  • Distribute naloxone to rural and urban counties throughout the state;
  • Expand syringe service programs and engage people who use drugs through community building and training;
  • Increase data capacity to drive local overdose responses;
  • Create media and communication campaigns to address racial disparities, reduce stigma and criminalization, and increase support for harm reduction services such as methadone and buprenorphine, naloxone, and syringe access services.

Nationally, overdose has become the leading killer of adults between ages 18 and 50, taking more than 67,000 lives in 2018.  Michigan is one of the hardest-hit states in the overdose epidemic, with 2,599 lives lost in 2018.

“Michigan is taking bold steps by adopting a proven, harm reduction approach in its response to the overdose crisis,” said Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “We must put people’s lives, health and dignity at the center of our response, and ensure that a commitment to racial equity guides all aspects of our work. These grants will catalyze services and coordination between state and local agencies, community leaders, hospitals, prisons, and harm reduction organizations. Every community has been touched by overdose—this crisis calls for nothing less than an urgent and comprehensive response.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her administration have worked closely with Vital Strategies across the state in identifying effective responses to the overdose crisis.

“The opioid crisis is hurting families from Downtown Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula, which is why last month, I announced a statewide goal for the State of Michigan to reduce the number of opioid deaths by 50% in five years,” said Governor Whitmer. “And we’ve seen some real, meaningful investments, including support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Vital Strategies, to accomplish that goal. These projects will be critical in helping those struggling with opioid use disorder access the care they need and get on a path to recovery. They’re real, meaningful steps to help us fight the opioid epidemic in Michigan, and I look forward to continuing this work in the near future.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies started supporting overdose prevention work in Michigan in 2019.  

“The overdose crisis is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” said Dr. Kelly Henning, head of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ public health programs. “We are proud to support Michigan to help implement the best, evidence-based strategies to address the opioid epidemic. By supporting promising interventions and scaling them up as rapidly as possible, we will save lives and provide resources to affected communities to help them address this epidemic head on.”

Vital Strategies, with support from other partners, is leading the implementation of the initiative in Michigan. This effort builds on work already underway in Pennsylvania, the initiative’s other focus state, which announced its first round of funding in July 2019. The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health is a partner in this initiative and will help evaluate the implementation and impact of overdose prevention projects.

“Governments hold the key to rapid progress on the leading public health challenges of our day like the overdose epidemic. When they act to protect their people, lives are saved and communities enriched,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies. “But every sector has a role to play – civil society, business, philanthropy. These grants are a product of just such an approach, and Michiganders will benefit from communities and environments that are being reimagined with health at their center. Thousands will benefit from easy and timely access to lifesaving medications, coordinated services, and supportive social norms.”

Below are several early projects to be launched in Michigan.

Distribute naloxone to high-need communities across the state

Naloxone is a life-saving opioid overdose reversal medication that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives nationally. Harm Reduction Michigan will distribute 60,000 kits of naloxone across the state. They will focus on underserved regions, using a community distribution model that taps into the networks of people who use drugs to distribute this life-saving opioid drug reversal.

“It is shameful that so many people are dying unnecessarily from this overdose crisis,” said Pam Lynch, director of Harm Reduction Michigan. “People who struggle with drugs need support and compassion, not stigma and criminalization. We are determined to get lifesaving naloxone to the people who need it.”

NEXT Harm Reduction is an online, mail-order service that will make naloxone available statewide to people who use drugs and lay-person responders. They will partner with the harm reduction organization Grand Rapids Red Project to deliver naloxone to those placing orders for it via their online portal (

“Stigma, distance, and financial barriers remain major impediments to naloxone access,” said Jamie Favaro, founder of NEXT Harm Reduction. “NEXT Harm Reduction’s online distribution project is designed for Michigan residents unable to access naloxone through traditional channels including pharmacies, clinics, and non-profits.”

Expand syringe service programs and fund community building and training for harm reduction organizations

Syringe access services save lives and money. These programs also reduce overdose deaths by reaching people at high risk for overdose with education, access to naloxone, and connection to medication treatment. 

Vital Strategies will work with the harm reduction organization Grand Rapids Red Project to expand its existing syringe services program. In addition, the organization will develop community organizing activities with people who use drugs and advocacy for harm reduction services.

“We are excited to partner with Vital Strategies to expand access to sterile syringes and center the voicesof people who use drugs in Michigan,” said Steve Alsum, executive director of The Grand Rapids Red Project. “Over the last year, The Red Project worked closelywiththe Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to increase operational syringe service programs in our state from five to 12, with a goal of 25 in 2020. We are organizing with people who use drugs to strengthen directly impacted communities and advocate for necessary changes to improve the lives and health of people who use drugs.”

Expand access to methadone and buprenorphine in state prisons

Methadone and buprenorphine are life-saving medications for people who use opioids. Providing these medications to people behind bars can help reduce overdose after people return to the community. Vital Strategies, in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Corrections, will expand these medications to those behind bars.

Increase data capacity to guide local overdose responses

Vital Strategies is supporting the Detroit Health Department to improve data capacity for informing local overdose policy and response, including harm reduction services. As part of this project, the Detroit Health Department will also receive funding to support community health organizations that provide syringe access, allowing them to expand their capacity.

“Too many families are dealing with this crisis and this investment will go a long way toward expanding our efforts to reduce opioid-related deaths and the number of those suffering from substance use disorders,” says Denise Fair, Chief Public Health Officer, Detroit Health Department. “We are committed to addressing this crisis with interventions like treatment and recovery programs to help save lives and restore families. This grant will greatly complement those efforts.”

Create media and communication campaigns to reduce stigma and increase support for harm reduction services

Vital Strategies will create media and communication campaigns to reduce stigma and increase support for harm reduction services. These campaigns will mobilize communities across geographies, and demographics, including people who use drugs and people directly impacted by drug use and overdose.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

About the Overdose Prevention Program

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.