A naloxone access point will open Friday at Grace Christian Church
Posted 3:53 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2022
Site to have naloxone kits, fentanyl test strips available to help fight fatal overdoses
In an effort to prevent further overdose deaths in the community after he had five overdoses – including two deaths – in just over a month, a new effort has begun in Albert Lea designating Grace Christian Church in Albert Lea as naloxone access point.
A team of local leaders who have formed to bring the service to the community gave a presentation on Wednesday about what the hotspot entails and the drug use issues in the area.
As an access point, a group of volunteers will provide naloxone kits to people who enter the church at designated times, as well as fentanyl test strips. Future efforts will be planned regarding additional naloxone education and intervention.
Naloxone is a drug approved by the Federal Drug Administration to reverse an opioid overdose in as little as two to five minutes. Although the drug is available as an intranasal spray, on Grace Christian’s site, intramuscular injections will be administered.
Revs. George and Jill Marin of Grace Christian Church, who have also served at Fountain Centers for 25 years, participated in the presentation along with licensed alcohol and drug counselors Lee Zuniga and Kay Drenth-Johannsen. The four are part of a trained team that includes other community leaders and licensed alcohol and drug counselors, as well as the mother of 16-year-old Manny Chavez, an Albert Lea student who died of a overdose at the end of July.
Jill Marin has a Masters in Mental Health Counseling, is a Nationally Certified Counselor, and is also working on her PhD in Psychology. Zuniga, a former Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor at Fountain Centers, recently launched HealthFinders Collaborative in Faribault. Drenth-Johannsen is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor who previously worked at Fountain Centers and more recently at Independent Management Services, helping start a location in Albert Lea.
Zuniga said the naloxone access point, at 501 W. College St., will be open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and will be open every Friday after that during the same hours. Anyone can enter the site from the street, no questions asked.
Zuniga and Drenth-Johannsen also provided their phone numbers if people needed kits outside those hours. Zuniga can be reached at 507-323-8100 and Drenth-Johannsen at 507-396-4477.
“Expanding awareness and availability of this drug is key to the public health response to the opioid epidemic,” Drenth-Johannsen said. “That’s why we’re doing this education…and we’ll have a product that people can pick up if they need it and we’ll give you an education on how to use it.”
George Marin clarified that the purpose of the site is not to serve as a clean use or needle exchange site.
“It’s just about trying to save lives, help connect with people, help with education and help with response,” he said.
Zuniga said signs of an overdose include when a person is not able to respond to touch or voice, their lips are blue or their breathing is not normal – they have breathing slow or stopped or is out of breath. In the case of those who died of an overdose, their breathing and their hearts stopped.
Naloxone can treat heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid overdoses when given on time, but cannot reverse methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepine, or alcohol overdoses.
Drenth-Johannsen said naloxone can help a person start breathing again. Despite the use, she said it was still important that the person be taken to the emergency room after being treated.
George Marin said there are currently no street drugs that can be considered safe, as most are mixed with fentanyl.
“From pot to Percocet to codeine…what’s on the streets is straight chalk…it has street fentanyl in it, and there’s a huge difference between hospital fentanyl and street fentanyl “, did he declare.
He pointed out that street fentanyl the size of a ball point pen can be deadly.
“The jar can be mixed with fentanyl, the pills can be mixed with fentanyl,” he said. “That’s the importance of knowing this information.”
Drenth-Johannsen estimated that more than 50% of Albert Lea’s drugs currently contain fentanyl.
At the candlelight vigil after Chavez’s death, George Marin said 75 naloxone kits were distributed. He has since spoken with a 19-year-old from the community who told him that there were three people whose lives had been saved thanks to the kits distributed that day.
“It’s a scary topic, but it affects every youth group in the city, every school in the city, and it could affect every aspect of our society. It’s a hugely important topic that we need to talk about openly. and come up with solutions like this.
Drenth-Johannsen said the problem doesn’t just affect young people in the community, it affects adults as well.
She said many were taking methamphetamine mixed with fentanyl that they were unaware of, and it was very addictive.
Zuniga said that in addition to distributing the kits at the hotspot site, licensed alcohol and drug counselors will also provide other support and treatment services as needed.
Funding for the kits came from the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which was established after Steve Rummler died of opioid use disorder. The foundation aims to help people suffering from chronic pain and addiction.
The team acknowledged it would take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the problem, but said they hoped the new hotspot site could provide a tool to keep people alive until they can get to a sober place in their life.
The naloxone hotspot will be named after Chavez and will be known as Manny’s Mission.