Pamela Lynch Director of Harm Reduction Michigan details a program where cannabis is delivered to addicts to help them beat back drug cravings
by Rick Thompson/January 5, 2022
The award-winning Jazz Cabbage Café podcast/television show launched Season Six with a banner episode featuring Pamela Lynch, Director of Harm Reduction Michigan, who discussed their program to help addicts beat their addictions using cannabis.
Lynch described “The Weed Way,” a program which puts cannabis products directly into the hands of those fighting alcohol, fentanyl, heroin, opioid and cocaine addiction. She detailed the program’s introduction as a pilot program in association with Wayne State University, which is no longer involved; the program’s sourcing of cannabis, currently being supplied by The Botanical Company; and their needs going forward.
“We had 100,000 people die in the past year from overdose,” Lynch explained, referencing national statistics. “What I’ve come to realize, in the work that we’re doing, is the only way we are able to reverse that trend, I believe, is if we separate the disease of addiction from the criminal justice system.”
“We run harm reduction services across the state of Michigan,” Lynch explained, detailing the organization’s mission and her personal perspective. “I had a lot of time in the HIV/AIDS movement. You can’t come from the HIV/AIDS movement and not believe in marijuana, and how helpful it can be for people.”
Harm Reduction Michigan covers most of the state. “We have offices in about 12 different counties in the state.” Offices is a generous term, as Lynch described at least one county in which the Harm Reduction Michigan team is no more than “one outreach worker in a van.”
“We have a person in Ypsi, we have a person in Detroit, we have an office in Midland… Manistee, Petoskey, Traverse City,” she mentioned.
She detailed the origins of The Weed Way. “When Wayne State approached us about possibly starting this practice, or program, where people might get medical products or edible products… to manage their symptoms, so that they may not use a more destructive substance like alcohol or methamphetamine… We were pretty excited about that opportunity to begin that project.”
Addiction is a disease of many faces. Some places in Michigan deal have different challenges, from a harm reduction standpoint, Lynch explained. “Different parts of the state have different drug products,” she offered. “In southeast Michigan there is a lot more variety than what’s available in some of the more rural communities.”
Fentanyl is everywhere, she reported. “In some of the rural communities what’s out there is fentanyl, a lot of fentanyl.” Fentanyl is often mixed with cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and opioid products- sometimes, without the knowledge of the drug user. “We now have this very crazy toxic soup of… fentanyl derivatives that are added to a lot of these substances, so people are at a great risk of overdosing.”
This sense of urgency was a driving force behind the launch of the collaboration between medical marijuana caregivers, Wayne State and Harm Reduction Michigan.
“They (Wayne State) approached us over a year ago,” Lynch remembered. “We went out and started looking for people to participate, and of course we found a whole bunch… We had quite the interest in this project.” That initial enthusiasm encountered the reality of financially supporting a research study. “People told me from Wayne State, you’ve got to bring it back down to about ten people.”
They streamlined the participant list and the program was a success. “It really went very well,” Lynch said. “They maintained their sobriety and maintained their recovery with these products… It’s been pretty fabulous that people can cut their cravings with some of the medible products that they’ve been supplied through this program.”
Part of the reason for the project’s success has to be attributed to personal experience. “Many of the other people who were volunteering to donate products to Wayne State for this project had also used the products themselves to recover from opiate use disorder, or had used them with family members” for a similar purpose. Lynch recalled, “It was pretty phenomenal. There was this great group of people who were donating their own products, completely free every month. It was a pretty substantial amount of money on a monthly basis out of the goodness of their heart and because they wanted the world to know, and to begin to study this.”
The cannabis used in the program was initially supplied by medical marijuana caregivers, Lynch answered, when asked. “Originally it was donations from caregivers who already had relationships with this team at Wayne State,” Lynch said. “There were about four different people providing and donating these products, with the original Wayne State program… people were coming out of the woodwork, trying to help, it was really pretty phenomenal.”
Caregiver supply wavered as one of the four had personal issues, and then The Botanical Company got involved through a mutual connection with the University.
“The Botanical Company stepped up and said, we would like to donate a certain amount of product on a regular basis to your program.” The program had been operating for about a year’s time using caregiver cannabis, Lynch explained. “We call it the ‘Weed Way’ program.”
Lynch cited one anonymous participant in the Weed Way program. “Having access to these (cannabis) products has helped her cut down on the meth use and the alcohol use substantially… this has been a product and a program that has been incredibly helpful and beneficial to people.”
In discussing her supply chain, Lynch had nothing but praise for BoCo. “The Botanical Company has this phenomenal array of products,” Lynch gushed, “and their bud tenders are amazingly knowledgeable people.”
Lynch wants to escape the restriction of being stuck providing cannabis to only ten addicts- or, nine, as one of the persons in the program succumbed to their health problems last year. “We would like to expand,” she explained, “we would like to be able to access some funding so that we can broaden it to more people.”
The ultimate goal, Lynch said, is to have a residential facility to provide the in-depth services Harm Reduction Michigan is capable of delivering. Traditional medical facilities often do not respect the needs of addicts. “A lot of the hospitals will treat people so poorly, ” she bemoaned. “That’s problem number one.”
Funding for Harm Reduction Michigan has been inconsistent, Lynch revealed. “We were a recipient of (funding from) Mike Bloomberg’s… Vital Strategies, (which) had given us a substantial amount of money a couple of years back which is literally what allowed us to expand, and get some of these brick-and-mortar locations, but Bloomberg put a halt to the money coming into Michigan for overdose prevention at the end of August. That literally meant a $125,000 budget cut for our organization, which is pretty substantial.”
Cannabis donations are acceptable, Lynch said. “There’s a lot of problems out here,” she explained, “and a lot of people would be very happy to have access to products.” The program was limited to ten participants while under the oversight of Wayne State, but that relationship is no more. “If we had more donations we could absolutely be doing it for more people in more of our locations.”
Life throws roadblocks into people’s paths. Making wise choices is not so easy in the modern world, Lynch suggested. “The Weed Way is a better way to go than opiates, methamphetamine, fentanyl or alcohol.”
The conversation hit close to home for some of the Jazz Cabbage participants, which included Jamie Lowell and Anton Harb, both of whom have stories of beating dependence by using cannabis. Adam Brook discussed difficulties in obtaining legally prescribed opioids, due to the stresses placed on the system as a result of addicts seeking drugs.
This issue is one worthy of further exploration, explained Lowell. “We’re going to have some of the Wayne State University people on in a couple of weeks to discuss that side of it,” he offered at the onset of the interview.