Of love and loss.

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.

Mr. Michael Botticelli, ONDCP

Mr. Michael Botticelli, ONDCP

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.

Keep calm and carry Naloxone!

Keep calm and carry Naloxone!

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.

Mark, a blessing in a t-shirt.

Mark, a blessing in a t-shirt.

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.

For Jonathan and Ashley..

For Jonathan and Ashley…

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.

Stay well.

By | 2018-04-07T23:22:53-04:00 October 26th, 2014|death, drug use, family, health, Life, loss|0 Comments

No Comments

  1. Nigel Brunsdon October 30, 2014 at 9:22 am - Reply

    It was wonderful to meet you at the event (I’m the bald, bearded english guy who designed the tshirt), many of my friends wouldn’t be alive without the work of your step-father, in some cases I would never had even met them. Thank you for speaking at the conference, for me it was a high point that I’ll never forget. x

    • totemtamers October 30, 2014 at 10:59 am - Reply

      Nigel!!! Meeting you was incredible and clearly your amazing t-shirt was very inspirational. I wanted to post one of the pictures of us, but I’m terribly vain and didn’t love the way I looked! Thank you for sharing with me and being one of the bright voices in what can be a very dark time for many. Stay well. xx

  2. Kathie Kane-Willis November 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    What an amazing blog post! It touched me in so many ways. Thank you for writing this and I wish I had the chance to meet you at HRC.

    • totemtamers November 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      Thank you Kathie!!! Had I known how many amazing people (everyone) were going to be at the conference, I would have stayed longer. I am planning to be in San Diego in 2016 though! Stay well.

  3. mrsyoung1127 November 5, 2014 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Wow..beautiful article..I’ve had my narcan training and am trying to help my community realize it’s existence and secure training fot everyone. Thank you to you and your family and I’m so sorry for your losses. I really really need a bunch of those t shirts! Thank.you again for your voice! Alicia Young

  4. mrsyoung1127 November 5, 2014 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Thank you so much, I’m so sorry for your losses. I’ve had my narcan training and kit thanks to your family. I’m tying to educate my community on the need and attempting to secure training for everyone.What I really really need is a bunch of those.t shirts..did that gentlemen tell you where he got his? Thank you again for sharing your story and.I.wish you as much peace as possible

    • totemtamers November 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much for your kind words Alicia! And thank you for your efforts, it’s all about education and access and we all have to do our part! As far as those t-shirts go (aren’t they awesome!) here’s the link: http://www.injectingadvice.com/v4/index.php/tshirts.
      Peace to you as well and stay well! Julie

  5. […] formulate this wonder drug. However, I also get to say that Naloxone wasn’t available to save my brother, or his girlfriend, when she overdosed a year later. Overdose deaths in 2013, surpassed deaths from car accidents. How […]

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