This Must Be the Place wants naloxone to be as common as Band-Aids

The Columbus nonprofit, which distributed more than 10,000 naloxone kits at music festivals this summer, hopes to fight the opioid crisis by normalizing the conversation around the life-saving drug.
William Perry (left) and Ingela Travers-Hayward of This Must Be the Place
William Perry (left) and Ingela Travers-Hayward of This Must Be the PlaceCourtesy This Must Be the Place

William Perry initially hit on the idea for This Must Be the Place – the harm reduction nonprofit he founded alongside Ingela Travers-Hayward – during a particularly low point in his life.

The idea first surfaced five years ago, with Perry in the back half of a 10-year prison sentence for burglary and being in possession of a stolen car, at a time when he started to dread making his scheduled phone calls home because “it was just to get an update on the body count.” 

“My high school class had been decimated, and all of my friends from my previous life were just gone,” Perry continued, detailing the ravages of the ongoing opioid epidemic, which killed more than 5,200 people in Ohio last year. “And it didn’t seem like anyone had a fix for the problem.”

The scope of the opioid crisis can be overwhelming, but progress is being made on multiple fronts, largely through the efforts of grassroots community groups and individuals who advocate tirelessly for policies to counter the rising death toll.

Perry and Travers-Hayward first uncovered their particular niche in addressing the crisis during the summer of 2021, when first-wave coronavirus numbers started to fall, and people emerged from nearly 18 months in relative isolation eager to make up for lost time. “So, there were all of these early summer parties, and people were dying of overdose,” Perry said, the death toll linked to a drug supply increasingly contaminated with fentanyl.

“Perry and I come from different worlds. He has all of these people he lost, who he grew up with, who he knew,” Travers-Hayward said. “And then I’m on the flipside, where I’m seeing people like me, who dabbled in drugs every so often, and maybe do a line of coke or something like that. And we’re seeing these people pass away, too, and it sort of became a question: How do we merge these two worlds? And the answer was finding a place where all of these people would be together. And that ended up being music festivals.”

This lightbulb moment and the subsequent launch of This Must Be the Place, which the duo incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in January, coincide with the conversation about the importance of harm reduction tools taking on greater prevalence within the concert industry. “The more music fans are advocating for [harm reduction tools], the more musicians are advocating for it, the more venues have to pay attention,” Speedy Ortiz and Sad13 singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis said in a recent Pitchfork feature. “And the more folks know to be looking out for each other in the music community.” 

Beginning this past summer, This Must Be the Place journeyed to eight music festivals across the country, from events such as the Columbus-based WonderBus all the way to Burning Man, a weeklong free-for-all held four hours north of Reno in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. This coming year, the two have plans to triple that number. 

At each stop in 2022, Travers-Hayward and Perry passed out free naloxone, a nasal spray that can be administered to reverse an opioid overdose. The two distributed more than 10,000 kits over the course of the summer, a bulk of which were donated by Hikma Pharmaceuticals, located on the West Side of Columbus.

While on site, the pair also instructed festival attendees on the signs a person is experiencing an overdose and answered any questions people had pertaining to naloxone. Perry, for instance, said concertgoers regularly asked if the drug is harmful when given to someone who is actually not experiencing an overdose. (It is not.). Or if it had to be administered Pulp Fiction-style by piercing the breastplate with a terrifyingly large needle. (No. The drug is given by tilting the person’s head back, inserting the tip of the nasal spray in one nostril and then releasing the dose.)

Of course, there are still myriad hurdles the two founders have had to navigate, including legal considerations that can vary wildly by city and state. While all 50 states have enacted a naloxone access law, for instance, in 13 of those states, including Virginia and Florida, the person who administers the medication is not guaranteed criminal immunity.

“But even when we talk to the health department in red states, they’re always like, ‘The more naloxone the better,’” Travers-Hayward said. “On site, talking to cops, talking to security, everyone realizes it is better that more people have this than not. We never really encountered any pushback, and it’s often the opposite. [Police] will say, ‘Hey, can I have a second one for the cruiser?’ 

Another part of This Must Be the Place’s mission centers on normalizing the larger conversation around naloxone, a life-saving tool that has been unnecessarily stigmatized in the ongoing war on drugs. 

“Some people might be nervous about being tabbed as an opioid user if they go and get [naloxone] from the table,” Travers-Hayward said. “When we were at a festival in Seattle, one of my oldest friends, she drove down from Vancouver to work the booth with us, and she told me [that carrying naloxone] is like carrying a tampon or a Band-Aid. And slowly but surely, we’re convincing people who don’t have any familiarity with naloxone to think of it like that. You’re not going to see someone overdose the second you put this in your bag, but if you do, you’d rather have it than not.”

As an example, the two recalled an Instagram message they received this summer from a young woman who took a naloxone kit at a festival in Seattle and then administered it the next day after happening upon an unresponsive man in a city park with her friends. 

“And she said they identified it [as an overdose] from everything they had learned at the festival the day before,” Perry said. “And they administered the naloxone, and the person woke up, became conscious, was extremely confused as to what happened, but his life was saved, just like that. … And that’s kind of the cause and effect of distribution of this kind, which is what we wanted in the first place. The more people that have it, the more chances there are that people’s lives are saved.”

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