April 3, 2023

Narcan can save lives – this woman works to make it more accessible

Aisha Diss leads harm reduction efforts in Fort Wayne through Project.ME.  - Darian Benson/WFYI

Aisha Diss leads harm reduction efforts in Fort Wayne through Project.ME.

Darian Benson/WFYI

Across Indiana, numerous groups support people living in recovery from addiction. They provide services like peer support groups and educational resources.

Many also provide harm reduction services – things like fentanyl strips to identify the presence of the deadly substance, and naloxone, a lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses. 

Aisha Diss leads some of these efforts in Fort Wayne, with Project.ME. The 43-year-old first entered recovery from opiates 14 years ago through the justice system.

When Diss was released from prison, she said she wanted to set goals for herself — like graduating from college and getting a job. But she said she often encountered stigma when trying to complete those goals, like hearing negative comments about her past or having difficulty finding a job because of her involvement in the justice system.

Diss said she wanted to be a voice for others with experiences like her’s, which led to her creating the non-profit Project.ME.

Diss spoke to WFYI health reporter Darian Benson as part of WFYI’s Voices of Recovery and Hope series. Click here to listen to the full series.

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.

One of my first forays as Project.ME was trying to find Narcan. So this is like early 2019, maybe late 2018. I had a friend who was sending me some doses from Texas. You just couldn't find it here. 

I looked for some Narcan training. I ended up getting that online through an organization called Get Naloxone Now. And so I got certified in how to administer Narcan. And then I actually went to the pharmacy and got my first doses of Narcan from the Walgreens. I had to use my own insurance, so it was like $30, whatever the copay was to get those.

That was the catalyst to like, I have to do something. People are just dying all over the place right now, and what is the reason for that when we have this medication that is lifesaving, that could prevent people from dying at such a rapid rate?

Especially with this fentanyl crisis, it just absolutely does not discriminate in any way, shape or form.

People are using substances in an experimental way and dying. Anybody can be affected by this and are being affected by this. And so that was my first mission under that Project.ME umbrella: to start distributing Narcan. So, registered as a distributor for the state, formed a partnership with Overdose Lifeline by signing up as a distributor for them, and started distributing Narcan.

What we do: we just talk to people and we offer safe use kits. And those kits, I think, we got some pushback a little bit. Understandably, I think anytime you're distributing supplies for people to use drugs, it can just be divisive.

But I think people are coming to understand that with Project.ME, it's all love. We don't mass distribute kits, so we don't like hand people a week's worth of, you know, whatever.

But every single time we issue one kit to somebody, it's a touchpoint and it's like a safe space that we've created. Because our whole mission through Project.ME is to deliver all of the supports and services that we give people with non-judgement and empathy and compassion and love.

And we just don't judge people. We don't care where you're at – we believe that you deserve the same support as everybody else.

And so if somebody's actively using, you just want to keep them as healthy and safe as they can be so that they have the opportunity to choose recovery, because the only time somebody can't recover is if they're dead.

So just keeping people alive and as free from the adverse effects of drugs as we can so that they have the opportunity to recover when they do make that choice, if they make that choice.

And if they don't, then just harm reduction and we meet them where they're at and just give them what they need to be safe.

Contact WFYI health reporter Darian Benson at dbenson@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @helloimdarian.

This series was created in response to community feedback around substance use issues collected by Side Effects Public Media’s Brittani Howell. You can read more about her substance use-related community engagement work here.

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