Updated: April 17, 2018 09:49 AM
There is no single solution to the heroin and opioid epidemic communities across the country are experiencing. It seems no town is immune.
Even without an obvious answer, Deb Noethe from Grand Rapids is on a crusade to do her part to help save lives.
"People, they just bury their heads in the sand," Noethe said. "And they don't want to realize what's going on in their communities."
She knows firsthand what's going on. Her son, Garret Bethke, died from a heroin overdose almost three years ago.
On what would have been his 31st birthday, Deb and a group of family and friends distributed blessing bags around Grand Rapids. They leave them in spots where people experiencing addiction or homelessness are known to hang out.
The backpacks are filled with toiletries, food, water and resources.
"Out of 31 bags, if one person finds it that gets the help they need and saves their life, it's all worth it," Deb said.
Kalli Robillard, a friend of Garret's, is a recovering addict herself. She said gestures like the blessing bags can make a huge difference.
"There are so many people that need that. And they need that encouragement that people do care," Robillard said.
She said she was in disbelief when she heard about Garret's death. But she was in the height of her own addiction, and she said the pills came first.
"It takes precedence over everything, it really does," Robillard said.
Now, as Kalli works to stay clean, she's found an ally in Garret's mom.
"I feel Garret radiating through her - his energy and his spirit just comes through her all the time," she said. "You can just be around her and feel all the love."
Deb's support is a motivator.
"She's really got all of us in mind, and she loves us and cares about us and wants to see better for us," Kalli said, "and that kind of keeps me going."
Deb also runs the Garret Bethke Foundation, and she trains people on how to administer naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
"The drugs aren't going to stop. At least if we can get the naloxone kits out there for people that are at high risk," she said.
She'd like to see Grand Rapids police officers carry them, and she does her best to get them in the hands of the family and friends of people who are using.
Minnesota law recently changed to allow people to purchase naloxone without a prescription.
Robillard said she knows people who have used naloxone to save a friend from overdose. But the drug does not treat the real problem.
"It's so sad that you have to carry around a kit that's going to save your life just for that little buzz," Robillard said.
Deb said saving lives is work it. And she's heard good stories about the impact the blessing bags make. But drugs are also still taking lives.
"My neighbor just lost her grandson just less than two weeks ago," she said. "Same age as Garret, same drug."
So she will keep doing whatever she can to make a difference.
"Every day, (Garret) sends me a sign and keeps pushing me to keep doing this stuff. Because I don't have a clue what I'm doing," Deb said. "It's all through Garret and God. That's all I know."
She hopes to do another blessing bag distribution in the fall with bags that include hats, mittens and cold weather gear.
Updated: April 17, 2018 09:49 AM
Created: July 17, 2017 05:37 PM
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