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Story by Georgea Kovanis, Visuals by Mandi Wright of the Detroit Free Press
Published on December 13, 2023

Editor’s note: This is a content warning. The following package contains extremely graphic descriptions, images and video of drug use and addiction, as well as discussion of sexual assault and suicide.

Take it easy, Amanda tells the visitor.

But the visitor, a middle-aged woman from the suburbs with expensive-looking highlights brushed through her hair, doesn’t listen.

Sitting at the kitchen table in the brick bungalow on Detroit’s east side where Amanda stays, the visitor fills her syringe fuller than Amanda thinks is wise. She eases it deftly into the top of her right hand, pulls back the plunger until blood seeps into the barrel indicating she has hit a vein and then pushes in the heroin. The drug works quickly. In less than a minute’s time, the visitor’s words are thick and slurred. Slowly, she collapses, her head melting onto the heavy black table, just missing the hunting knife and mirror she’d laid there earlier, next to her buffet of vodka, juice and drugs. She begins to snore, the loud rumble a sign of overdose ― which is exactly what Amanda was trying to prevent. The woman looks pale, maybe even a little gray.

Amanda rises from her chair and tries to nudge her awake.

“You OK? Talk to me! Talk to me! Goddamnit!” Amanda says.

She rubs the woman’s breastbone with the palm of her hand, in an attempt to jump-start her into consciousness.

“Are you OK?” Amanda asks.

“No,” the visitor mumbles.

“You’re not OK?”


With strength that belies her petite frame, Amanda yanks the visitor upright in the chair. She hovers over her lap, straddling her so they are face to face, takes a long pull on a crack pipe and exhales the vapor into the visitor’s mouth. Amanda hopes, per urban legend, the crack will counteract the heroin and whatever else is mixed with it, most surely fentanyl. When the crack shotgun doesn’t work, Amanda pumps a syringe of Narcan into the visitor’s left arm. She hopes it will be enough to revive her but not so much it catapults her into withdrawal and makes her sick and sloppy and angry she has lost her high.

The visitor awakens for a moment then lays her head back on the table, a rock of crack the size of a Tic Tac stuck to her cheek. Amanda urges her to smoke more crack and threatens to give her another hit of Narcan if she starts snoring again. “I ain’t playing,” Amanda says. She knows the effects of Narcan only last 30 to 90 minutes and that it’s possible for it to wear off before the drugs, causing yet another overdose. The visitor nods out and in. She mumbles every so often, telling herself she’s pretty and kissing her own reflection in the mirror. She will be like this for the next couple of hours, though for now, on this chilly afternoon in early May 2022, the worst is over and that’s thanks to Amanda.

In the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic the nation has ever seen, one that kills well over 100,000 people every year, including roughly 3,000 in Michigan, Amanda is the guardian angel of east-side junkies. She gives them another chance at life, bringing them back from the edge of drug-induced death. She gives them clean needles by the thousands to stave off disease and she gives them Narcan (generic: naloxone) to reverse overdoses from heroin, fentanyl and other opioids. She gives them some dignity, too, offering her shower to those in need and passing along clothing she has collected or purged from her own closet to the women who pop in and out of the bungalow and the other dope houses. And when people in the neighborhood call her a superhero or a humanitarian or declare her ‘hood famous for the good she does, Amanda basks in the glow of their recognition. It is confirmation that for all she has done wrong in her 40 years of life, all the havoc she wreaks, all the heartache she causes, she’s finally doing something right. It is the virtue to her vice.

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