Families Against Narcotics launches new Mecosta County chapter

Non-profit organization brings Ferris students volunteer and internship opportunities

After last Wednesday’s Families Against Narcotics chapter launch, Ferris students now have the opportunity to become an “angel” in the Big Rapids area.

On Oct. 19, members of the grassroots FAN organization held a press conference in Ferris’ Michigan College of Optometry. The speakers discussed a new FAN chapter covering Mecosta and Osceola Counties, as well as the implementation of the Hope Not Handcuffs program in local law enforcement.

Ferris’ Department of Public Safety, Big Rapids DPS and the Mecosta County Sheriff’s Office will now connect anyone who asks for help with a FAN-trained, Hope Not Handcuffs volunteer, known as an angel. The role of an angel is to help people with addiction find resources and treatment.

Social work senior MiKayla Altoff recently finished training to become an angel. She believes that other social work students would be interested in getting involved with Hope not Handcuffs.

“I have [a] family history of substance users, so that is what drew me in,” Altoff said. “I thought, if I knew that [other substance users] could get that help, then I’d be willing to volunteer.”

Photo by: Marissa Russell | Multimedia Editor
Dr. Gail Bullard and regional Angel Coordinator Justine Garcia cut the symbolic ribbon for Mecosta and Osceola Counties’ new FAN chapter. Photo by: Marissa Russell

Anyone interested in becoming an angel can apply at hopenothandcuffs.com. Altoff described the training and onboarding process as “super easy.” She first heard about the program from her internship advisor, Dr. Gail Bullard. Bullard is program coordinator for the master of healthcare administration and secretary for Mecosta and Osceola County’s FAN chapter. As project director for the Central Michigan Recovery and Education Network, Bullard was among the first people to reach out to FAN in hopes of forming a new chapter.

“We introduced FAN to the community because we amplify services that are here and try to fill gaps in prevention, treatment and recovery for substance use disorder,” Bullard said.

Bullard was moved to tears explaining what this work means to the Ferris and west Michigan communities. She believes that Ferris students who enter the medical workforce after gaining experience with FAN will be set up for success.

“[Students] will be able to have a level of empathy for this that hasn’t been in healthcare prior,” Bullard said.

Social work and healthcare students are not the only ones with a unique career experience opportunity. Dr. Mike Mendendhall is an associate professor of criminal justice and the Mecosta County FAN treasurer. He plans to bring the FAN organization directly into the classroom with Narcan training led by Regional Angel Coordinator Justine Garcia. Each student will leave the classroom with their own portion of Narcan, a nasal spray used to treat narcotic overdose.

“The sooner we can familiarize and make students more comfortable with this topic and some of the stuff they have to use on the job, it’ll be easier to bridge [the gap] once they start working in the field,” Mendenhall said.

Mecosta County Sherriff Brian Miller told his story of self-education and seeing the “bigger picture” of opioid addiction. He explained that those in law enforcement can sometimes become “jaded” when they only see one side of the drug use issue. Miller’s worldview evolved once he saw the non-criminal side of addiction. By working with FAN and reading the book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America,” Miller’s perspective changed.

“I think a large part of protecting and serving is understanding people, being able to have compassion for people and maybe the place that they are in life at that point,” Miller said.

As a sheriff today, Miller feels a responsibility to go beyond law enforcement. He says that officers are also expected to do the work of psychiatrists, social workers and more. This is why he believes that the only way to make a difference in this community is by working together with organizations like FAN.

“Get off the ground,” Miller said. “Get on your feet. It is important because, more times than not, we can’t do it alone. We’re fortunate to have FAN, Hope Not Handcuffs [and] our community mental health involved in our agency.”

Everyone in attendance at the press conference was able to enjoy free street style tacos courtesy of a Sober Eats food truck. Sober Eats is a family owned business with over 20 years of experience in the mental health and addictions field. 

As Bullard said, last Wednesday was only the beginning. FAN chapter meetings will take place in Liberty Baptist Church on the first Monday of every month. Hour long board meetings will begin at 6 p.m., followed by forums that are open to the community.