I have been wanting to write this post for days, but it makes sense that today is the day I find the strength to sit down and actually do it. I started thinking about this post a few days ago, even when my alarm went off at 4:45 am to get me up to catch a train to Baltimore. I was asked by my friends at the Harm Reduction Coalition if I wanted to come to their national conference, where hundreds would gather for four days to learn, share, educate, understand and “promote the health and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by drug use.” Of course I said yes, though I only had a couple hours to give, I knew this was not an experience to miss, and one that I needed to have. I met a couple of the amazing people from HRC last year, when they came to my mom’s house to do a Naloxone training. Naloxone is an antidote to overdose, and it happened to be created by my stepfather, Jack Fishman. Sharon and Bill from HRC, showed up and shared some of their knowledge and armed anyone who wanted it, with an overdose prevention kit. I wrote about that evening here and even though it was almost a year ago, the shivers still remain. Here was a group of people being given an answer, a cure so to speak, a tool that can help save thousands of lives and has helped countless already. Sadly, it didn’t help my brother, who didn’t have access to Naloxone, who we said goodbye to 11 years ago today. It didn’t help his girlfriend Ashley either, when on this same day ten years ago, we lost her, too.That’s why today was the day for me to get this out.
When I first arrived, Sharon was eagerly waiting for me and excited to introduce me to Michael Botticelli, the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was there to give us all hope that the government is finally grasping that overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury-related fatalities in people aged 35-54, and the second leading cause of death for young people. Botticelli talked about Naloxone, heck, everyone was talking about Naloxone, and I sat there so proud of my stepfather and inspired by all these people who showed up at this conference. I met one man who had used Naloxone to reverse 27 overdoses! That’s 27 lives that were saved, by one person!!! Then I met another man who called my stepfather a hero. Wow, this was overwhelming, then a man walked by me with a t-shirt on, that stopped me in my tracks.
I asked if I could take a picture of the shirt, and he kindly obliged and walked away. My HRC friend Sharon, hopped up and ran after him to whisper in his ear who I was and why I was there. Next thing I knew, this man was crouched down at my side, his big arms around me, shaking, as he whispered in my ear “Your family is so important to me, Naloxone saved my life….twice.” He thanked me and quickly walked away. I started to lose my composure a bit at this point, but truly lost it moments later when the room took a moment of meditation to remember those who had been lost. One by one, names were called out from all corners of the room, and I was done for, no longer in control of the tears. This was also the moment I was informed that I was supposed to get up and say a few words. WHAT?! I did my best to pull it together while this lovely young lady introduced me as a special guest. There I was, standing in front of hundreds of people, some former drug users, some active drug users, many that have been saved by Naloxone or that have used Naloxone to save someone, and many that have lost loved ones, just like me. I was a stranger until I explained that my Stepdad created Naloxone, and then in an instant, I became family. In that instant, the room erupted in hoots and hollers and applause, and people were on their feet and the smiles and the tears enveloped me. Then I told them about my brother Jonathan, and I got the chance to thank them for all the work they are doing to help make sure that not another person has to die from overdose. Needless to say, it was incredible. During a break, I walked around to see the exhibits, and of course to meet a ton of people that Sharon kept wanting me to say hello to. That guy with the t-shirt was there, too.
The few hours I was able to be there, have changed me forever. I know I will go to the next conference, and I know I will stay longer. I know that I will continue on the mission, like all of these dedicated people, to make sure Naloxone is more accessible to those who need it most. I know that in doing so, the memory of my stepfather lives on, and the memory of my brother and his girlfriend will as well. There was one exhibit that was the hardest for me to visit, but one I knew I had to visit. It was the memorial corner where people could put the names of loved ones they have lost on a board. There were so many names, so many boards, and now, I had to add two more.
The hope is that the names will stop adding up, that people who need access to Naloxone can get it, that we are not powerless anymore. There is a lot that you can do and if you’d like to help, visit the Harm Reduction site, or the Drug Policy Alliance site, and take action. No one else needs to die from a drug overdose, no one.