Flint, MI—Free Narcan and fentanyl testing strips are now available from a vending machine unveiled today in downtown Flint. It’s the first such machine in Genesee County.

The potentially life-saving machine is located inside of the Flint Mass Transportation Authority Transit Center at 615 Harrison St., Flint, Mich. 

It was funded by a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) grant to Genesee Community Health Center (GCHC), which works alongside the Genesee Health System (GHS) “to ensure both the physical and the mental health needs of the community are met,” according to Melissa Brown, marketing manager for GHS.

 “Like many communities across the United States, Genesee County is experiencing an opioid epidemic,” said Carrie Chanter, Director of Prevention, Health & Wellness for GHS, standing in front of the new machine in the MTA lobby on Feb. 9, 2023. 

Carrie Chanter, Director of Prevention, Health & Wellness at Genesee Health System, speaks about the new vending machine dispensing free Narcan and fentanyl test strips at the MTA Transit Center in downtown Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

Chanter said that 2,684 Michigan residents had died by opioid overdose in 2020, and 141 one of those deaths were in Genesee County. She added that “those numbers have absolutely increased since the pandemic,” which is why such a vending machine is needed.

“Narcan, which is the brand name of Naloxone nasal spray, is a medication that reverses opioid overdose and can revive an individual long enough to get a first responder there to the scene,” she explained. 

Aside from Narcan, the vending machine also includes free packages of testing strips for fentanyl, a highly-potent synthetic opioid, which can be prescribed for pain management but has found its way, fatally, into recreational drug supplies.

According to Chanter the vending machine is the first of its kind in the county, though Brown noted that free Narcan and fentanyl testing strips have been available “for quite some time” through community partners.

Russell Hill, a recovery coach at GCHC, explained that while the new vending machine works like any other, its contents can prove more valuable.

“There is no rocket science here,” Hill told the gathered press and community during a demonstration of the machine. “The cool thing about this one is it’s got life-saving Narcan in it.”

Both the machine’s Narcan and fentanyl testing strips have instructions for detecting an overdose, Hill said, as well as instructions for how to use either item. The machine also includes QR codes linking you to an informational video or a Narcan training seminar sign-up.

Kelly Ainsworth, project director of Mental Health & Substance Use Initiatives for the Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC), explained that in more recent data, Genesee County is the third highest in the state for overdose death rates, with 153 overdose deaths recorded between September 2021 and August 2022. 

Kelly Ainsworth, the Project Director of Mental Health & Substance Use Initiatives at the Greater Flint Health Coalition, speaks about the new vending machine dispensing free Narcan and Fetanyl test strips at the MTA Transit Center in downtown Flint, Mich. on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

“The integration of harm reduction strategies that meet people where they’re at and reduce negative consequences of drug use, and improve quality of life for people using substances, are essential as we work to address the impacts of the opioid epidemic and other emerging trends here in Genesee County,” Ainsworth told the crowd.

She added that providing people who use drugs the ability to test their supply for fentanyl “empowers them to make informed decisions” about the use of their supply and to plan safer use practices, such as having Narcan on-hand and avoid using alone in case an overdose occurs.

Chanter said for the first two weeks of the machine’s operation, GCHC staff will be on-hand to field questions and help folks “feel comfortable.” From there the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Public Safety will help restock the machine periodically with free Narcan and fentanyl testing strips provided by MDHHS.

Ed Benning, Flint MTA General Manager and CEO, told Flint Beat his organization was happy to provide space for the machine, noting that the transit center was a great location for it since the building is both centrally located and also serves roughly 14,000 people each day.

“So many different services go through there,” Benning said, noting a host of regional and local transportation options the MTA provides. “So when you put all those together, the numbers [of people who will have access to this machine] can be, you know, quite substantial.”

Chanter said that though the machine is considered a “pilot,” she did not anticipate a shortage of funding for its supplies, given the ongoing opioid crisis. She also noted other Michigan communities have already found success with similar installations.

“We are expecting great results,” Chanter said. “And I think that we’ll be able to replicate it in other parts of the county.”

The free Narcan and fentanyl test strips vending machine in downtown Flint is already operational.

For other drug-related support, GFHC developed the Community-Wide Opioid Strategy Document to support prevention and treatment efforts around non-opioid substances including alcohol, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

In addition, Genesee County has a Quick Response Team (QRT) that connects overdose survivors to harm reduction and treatment services immediately following an overdose. The QRT also offers a 24/7 for support services (warm line and text line).

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...