At music festivals across the U.S. this summer, there’s a booth drawing a lot of attention. Away from the stage of stars, it’s not food or drinks, but it is free. Between sets of their favourite bands, fans can get the tools and knowledge to reverse an opioid overdose.
“We have to target people who might not think that something like this will happen to them and we found the best place to reach those people in an open minded state is through music and arts events,” said William Perry, co-founder of This Must Be The Place. The non-profit, based in Columbus, Ohio is nearly two years old and making waves across the U.S. in hopes of helping and healing people impacted by the unprecedented opioid epidemic.
“People become a little bit more open minded to the fact that their friends or just strangers around them might be in danger and they do have this ability to help them,” said Perry.
This Must Be The Place was a name that could have been temporary, but it stuck. “Wherever we go, whatever festival we’re at, this must be the place where you can get free Naloxone,” said Ingela Travers-Hayward, co-founder of the organization and Perry’s wife, originally from Toronto.
The couple say they set out to do whatever the health units were not. They wanted to meet people in a space where they felt comfortable and could talk in an open setting.
With no pharmacists behind the booth, they have a team with varying lifestyles and backgrounds, ready to connect with concert goers. With their pet Corgi as a mascot, casual clothing and a unique sense of style, they easily attract a crowd to their booth.
“They’re going to a festival, they’re not expecting to see free Naloxone and we want to make it so when they see that word, they feel really comfortable to come up to the booth. They feel like, ‘OK, let me go investigate,’” said Travers-Hayward.
The non-profit works to normalize the conversation about drugs, while teaching people how to use Naloxone, a medication used to reverse the effects of opioids.
This Must Be The Place co-founders Ingela Travers-Hayward and William Perry never imaged they’d be running a non-profit and handing out Naloxone, but they’re inspired by what they’ve accomplished ― providing people with the critical tools they need to help save a life. (Submitted: This Must Be The Place)
In two years, the organization has handed out more than 30,000 kits, donated by a pharmaceutical company. They’re now reaching a critical milestone, giving Naloxone to roughly one-in-20 people at a festival. “When you’re down in a crowd or down in the pit watching your favourite band, your 360 line of sight, and the people you can get to is roughly 20 to 25 people,” said Perry.
Street drugs have become increasingly tainted with powerful opioids, such a fentanyl, a deadly reality hundreds of thousands have faced over the years. Perry has seen the effect of the opioid epidemic first hand. He spent a large part of his life struggling with addiction.
“People, much older than me gave me … some drugs when I was really young and they forgot to tell me, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, you’re going to be addicted to this and you’re gonna need this every single day,’” Perry said, opening about his past.
Pausing to collect his thoughts, Perry takes a deep breath before saying “and so I didn’t know any better until I was caught up in it and so were all of my friends. Unfortunately, the majority of them aren’t with us anymore and that’s because of how long this has lasted and how dangerous it’s become.”
Perry now has five and a half years of sobriety under his belt and acts as a sober recovery counsellor, determined to help others. “There’s absolutely nothing I can do to bring back the friends that I’ve lost, but there is something that I can do to hopefully prevent someone else from going through that pain.”
The people who come by their booth range in age ― anyone from teenagers to people in their sixties. Some admit they themselves have never had experience with drugs, but everyone is happy to take a kit.
“So many people who take this have no experience with an overdose before, so it’s just like having to tell them, ‘It’s going to be scary, it’s going to be intense but you’re going to get through it ― just one little thing and you’re going to be able to save a life.’ That’s a huge comfort to people,” said Travers-Hayward.
A naloxone kit is shown in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday November 13, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
While festivals are often known as a place for drugs, the organization is not only targeting that market, but their communities. The group has heard stories of the Naloxone handed out and being used not long after, but the kits that don’t get used go home in the hands of people willing to use them, with the skills to do so.
The toxic supply of street drugs is affecting more than those who are “typical” users.
“Even though maybe I am not a user, (it’s possible) somebody at my work is doing a mid-afternoon pick me up to get me through the day. You know, that’s possible,” said Perry. “And what we know about this opioid supply, that means that person at your job is highly at risk, which means you should probably have one of these at least somewhere in the break room, at your desk or whatever.”
This Must Be the Place is that opportunity for someone to get equipped.
“It’s everywhere now, and you can’t really live in this way of saying it’s not going to impact me. Ideally, it doesn’t … ideally, you never see someone overdosing or you don’t know someone who has overdosed, but you’re not as immune from it as you once were,” said Travers-Hayward.
The two come from vastly different backgrounds and met while Travers-Hayward was researching for a documentary in Columbus, Ohio. The documentary never came to fruition and neither imaged they’d be running a non-profit and handing out Naloxone, but they’re inspired by what they’ve accomplished ― providing people with the critical tools they need to help save a life.