Last year like she scrolled through Twitter, Morgan Godwin made a bold move. A Portland-based editor and harm reduction activist wrote a direct message to indie rap group Atmosphere asking them to distribute naloxone for opioid overdose during their upcoming tour. She didn’t necessarily expect a response to her message. It was a wild request. But, to Godwin’s surprise, Atmosphere not only responded, but enthusiastically agreed.
Godwin set to work. With the help of a network of volunteers, she distributed naloxone (often branded as “Narcan”) at Atmosphere concerts around the country. This was not an easy task, as naloxone is often difficult and expensive to obtain, and each state has its own distribution rules. But the effort was swift and clearly fruitful. “We literally saved lives at the Albuquerque show,” says Godwin. “There, harm reduction specialists canceled two overdoses: one during the show and one in the parking lot after.”
godwin Organization, Beats overdosepreparing for another summer tour. It’s not too early: Drug overdose take off, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a grim report of more than 100,000 deaths in 2021. Synthetic opioids, most notably fentanyl, have contributed significantly to this surge. “The drug supply is becoming more unpredictable,” says Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Research and Academic Engagement Department. Even people who buy the pills should be careful, Waharia warns, as counterfeiters make fentanyl look like prescription drugs like OxyContin. And while it’s not a common problem, sometimes clusters of overdoses are caused by cocaine, methamphetamines, and other non-opioid drugs that are inadvertently cross-contaminated with fentanyl. Meanwhile, the weather is getting warmer, people are restless, the festival season has begun. Summer promises to be hedonistic, which is why Narcan is so important.
Godwin is not the only activist making his way through the crowd. Ingela Travers-Hayward and William Perry, an Ohio couple, recently founded a non-profit organization. This must be the place on a mission to deliver Narcan to massive summer events. Starting in late May, they’ll be traveling across the US to hand out Narcan at eight festivals, including Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, Cleveland’s Wonderstruck, and Nevada’s legendary, raucous Burning Man art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. “We knew that this summer everyone would be back and throwing a party, maybe even more than usual,” says Perry. However, given that the drug supply is so contaminated, he is worried. “They will run into a circular saw.”
Travers-Hayward and Perry decided to target the festivals because they figured there would be a large number of people who weren’t regular drug users who chose to try. In the absence of tolerance, the likelihood of an overdose is especially high. “We thought, you know, we’ll be emailing festivals, maybe we’ll end up with one or two in Ohio,” says Travers-Hayward. “But then we started getting good reviews.” The duo even had to refuse to participate in some festivals, because they did not have the opportunity to attend there. They will distribute Narcan from the stalls in the territory. “We are lucky that the venues are fully compliant.”
It wasn’t always like that. Colorado lawyer Daniel Garcia carried naloxone with him for a long time, and he faced some resistance at first. Ten years ago volunteering with a multi-year public health organization dance safe, he went to an exhibition in Denver with naloxone. The owners of the hall did not allow him to bring it. “They messed up a bit,” he says. Garcia recalls that they were worried it might look like they were condoning drug use, having previously had problems with people using drugs at concerts. “My answer was, well, you admit that you have all this going on and you are in trouble because of it. Wouldn’t it be safer and better to have drugs and services to prevent overdoses and deaths on the dance floor? They didn’t buy it.” But now, Garcia says, he has no problem carrying naloxone. “Everyone knows him. Now, lately, I’m really getting thank you for carrying“.
What’s more, it’s even available at the Colorado Springs Courthouse where Garcia works. “A few months ago, someone overdosed in the middle of a hearing and one of the court clerks immediately jumped on it and grabbed the narcan.”
Sometimes, however, there is some resistance. Brooklyn writer Virginia K. Smith recently had her drug confiscated from a club in Williamsburg, though she explained his appointment to security. “I think I literally said, ‘This is the opposite of drugs,'” she says. The office of New York Mayor Eric Adams recently opened. initiative encourage bar owners and other nightlife leaders to stock up on narcan; this incident is a reminder that the message did not reach everyone.
DanceSafe training manager Rachel Clark says the issue of allowing naloxone often depends on individual security personnel. Naloxone comes in two main forms. One of these, a nasal spray, is popular for its ease of use but can be expensive. Other injectable (or sometimes autoinjective); since it involves needles, it is more difficult to use without training. It is also more likely to be confiscated as needles tend to be flagged at entry points during baggage screening. Most festivals and shows allow people to bring prescription drugs, so carrying them should be allowed. However, anyone carrying one should familiarize themselves with local regulations and prepare for possible erroneous confiscation. Clarke also emphasizes that naloxone is in short supply, so stockpiling is unwise. “People don’t need to save Narcan,” she says.
Hoarding is bad, but just having narcan on hand is a wise choice. And for people who want to start carrying without waiting to connect to an advocacy group like Beats Overdose, there are harm reduction groups in most major cities offering naloxone typing training for individuals. For example, when I was living in New York, I went to the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center in midtown Manhattan and got a free kit after a short training session. Now I keep it at the bottom of my purse just in case. There are also some programs designed to mail naloxone to people who don’t have access to it locally, such as an online harm reduction resource. NextDistro. NextDistro also has detailed status information accident about the laws and policies of the Good Samaritan regarding naloxone and drug defenses on its website; it is a critical tool for local compliance enforcement.
Narcan is not the only life-saving remedy for fatal overdoses. Fentanyl test strips, for example, can help people detect the presence of an opioid before they take drugs, and drug testing in nightclubs is advancing in parallel. (Beats Overdose also gives out test strips.) But Narcan is a great place to start. The scale of the overdose crisis is so big it’s hard to understand without feeling extremely bleak. Going out into the world with a small life-saving kit is a way to actively participate in society’s movement towards harm reduction. “These services have never been more needed,” says Godwin.
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