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To combat rising opioid deaths, Safe Streets distributes naloxone to Wichita community

Safe Streets
Kylie Cameron
Angela Scott (left) and Aonya Barnett (right) hand out naloxone kits to people in the area of 3rd and Topeka near downtown Wichita.

Earlier this year, Safe Streets received funding from the city of Wichita to distribute naloxone kits to help prevent even more opioid-related deaths.

It’s a brisk Saturday morning in Wichita, but volunteers have bundled up and are gathered in various parts of town to hand out naloxone to whomever wants it.

The handouts are part of a city-funded initiative in partnership with Safe Streets – a community group focused on preventing drug-related deaths.

Earlier this year, Safe Streets received funding from the city of Wichita to distribute naloxone kits to help prevent even more opioid-related deaths. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.

“It's such a great way to connect for community engagement and then also education, and then people knowing that there is a preventative measure,” said Aonya Barnett, the group’s executive director.

“People don't have to die. You can really prepare yourself.”

Safe Streets naloxone sign
Kylie Cameron
Safe Streets began handing out naloxone kits with funding from the city of Wichita to combat rising opioid deaths.

The group originally had three locations for its handouts that day, mostly along the Broadway corridor and in south Wichita.

But the group quickly pivoted to another location when it found out there was a nearby food giveaway for the unhoused.

Soon after Barnett arrived, the kits were gone within minutes.

“The demand outweighs the supply,” she said.

While not funded by the city, Safe Streets also handed out fentanyl test strips donated by private groups. The strips are made of paper and can detect the presence of fentanyl in various drugs.

Wichita recently decriminalized the test strips within city limits, but they’re still illegal statewide.

Angela Scott, a Safe Streets member who worked with Barnett during the handouts that day, said that needs to change to prevent more accidental overdoses.

“I had a family member die in the street – was overdosing,” Scott said. “People did not want to call 911 for fear of repercussions. And my family member died … just under-resourced and not a lot of opportunity to have access to the types of resources you need.”

According to city officials, it’s likely that Sedgwick County saw more than 300 overdose deaths in 2022.

To prevent even more deaths, Barnett said people need additional resources such as affordable health care and harm reduction measures.

Harm reduction measures help prevent possible overdoses, spreading infectious disease, or other possible harms as a result of drug use, according to the Center for Disease Control.

But Barnett also said there needs to be a reduction in the stigma surrounding drug treatment.

“A future I envision is for this to be free and accessible to anyone,” she said.

Jazmine Rogers is an advocate for harm reduction measures in Kansas. She also has experience with a family member who suffers from addiction.

Rogers agrees that reducing the stigma around addiction and addiction treatment will make it more accessible for others.

“No one is free from being affected by this,” she said. “And the stigma just stops progress that would benefit everyone.”

Back at the kit handout near downtown Wichita, Michael, who is unhoused, receives a kit from Safe Streets.

Michael said he’s seen people on the street overdose. By getting a kit, he hopes to prevent another one.

“There's nothing I could do besides call paramedics,” he said. “In all reality, I think everybody needs one.”

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.