Oct 19, 2023

Lifesaving Mix at ACL: Thousands of Overdose Reversal Drug Doses, Education and Music Come Together for First Time

Reporting Texas

This Must Be the Place co-founder William Perry talks with festival-goers on how to administer naloxone at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Anissa Sanchez/Reporting Texas

From a booth on the east side of Zilker Park, a husband and wife from Ohio exceeded their dreams of helping to save lives by distributing 6,000 doses of overdose-reversing drugs.

“We thought we were gonna do a couple of festivals in the Midwest; that’s all we hoped for,” William Perry said of his lifesaving operation called This Must Be the Place. “This year, we went coast to coast and now we’re here in Austin.”

Their booth at Austin City Limits Music Festival the past two weekends served as a beacon of information on preventing fatal overdoses of fentanyl and other opioids with the nasal spray naloxone.

“I had a vague idea of what Narcan was before coming here,” said Linda Carrizales, who came from Cypress, near Houston, to attend ACL. “Driving into Austin, I saw several fentanyl awareness billboards with victims’ faces and it made me think of how their families must feel about their loss. It puts my mind at ease to know that there’s an antidote drug that would help people if they faced an overdose experience.”

She said she was intrigued seeing This Must Be the Place set up near the east entrance to Zilker Park.

This Must Be the Place began as a passion project in Columbus, Ohio. With the help of volunteers, Perry and his wife, former documentary producer Ingela Travers-Hayward, began distributing naloxone kits at events., including music festivals and flea markets. One year into their efforts, the group traveled to some of the biggest music festivals to hand out Kloxxado, a variety of naloxone that is more powerful than the more commonly known Narcan spray.

“If you look at all these people that are here, the likelihood is that at some point in time, they might be adjacent to someone who is using,” Perry said. “Because of what we know about fentanyl, it is really dangerous. So there needs to be someone there that can save a life.”

Perry said they found a receptive crowd in Austin. 

“We were prepared to talk people into taking it and talk people into why they should have it, and obviously that was not the case,” Perry said. “All you have to do is sit and listen to us explain the signs and symptoms and how to administer the medication. It takes people two and a half minutes or so and now they’re equipped to go save a life.”

The FDA approved the Narcan nasal spray as a prescription drug in 2015 and for over-the-counter sale in March 2023, widening the availability of opioid overdose treatments. Texas was also the first state to sell the nasal spray online with Naloxone Exchange, a website that aims to reduce the stigma of drug use.

Texas launched a “One Pill Kills” campaign last year to combat the fentanyl crisis. Texas police departments recently received a second round of allotment of 60,000 units of naloxone. 

“With this next allotment of Narcan, Texas can help ensure that every Texas community — including our schools — has this life-saving medication to save innocent lives from the devastation of fentanyl poisonings,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press release.

When administered, the medication sends naloxone to brain receptors to displace opioid molecules from receptor sites, stabilizing breathing and potentially reversing life-threatening effects. But, naloxone’s effect only lasts for a short amount of time, ideally enough for emergency medics to respond.

“Even in severe cases, the goal with naloxone administration is not to wake the patient up completely, but to administer just enough to reinstate their respiratory drive so they’re able to breathe adequately on their own,” Austin-Travis County EMS Capt. Christa Stedman said.

From 2021 to 2022, Travis County saw a spike in the number of accidental fentanyl-related overdoses from 118 to 245, according to the 2022 Travis County Medical Examiner Annual Report. Texas Health Data reports that out of the 4,921 drug-related deaths in the state, 2,189 of those were fentanyl poisoning-related. It’s a surge in numbers that Stedman hopes will drop as naloxone’s distribution rises.

“Naloxone is an incredibly important tool in our toolbox, and has been for decades,” Stedman said. “While naloxone has only been available to the general public in recent years, hospitals and EMS systems have been using it since the ‘70s. It truly is a lifesaving medication that has very few contraindications and is very safe to use.”

During the Austin City Limits Music Festival, This Must Be the Place distributed eight-milligram individual doses of Kloxxado — a version of naloxone that works as a double dose. Or as Perry puts it, a dose that’s “twice as powerful as your regular Narcan.”

Because of this, only a single dose of Kloxxado is needed in an effort to revive an overdose victim.

“Naloxone was illegal in Ohio until 2017, that’s why all my good friends are dead now,” Perry said. “Them changing that and making it so now everyone can have it is a game changer in the opioid epidemic. Now the issue is normalizing it and not making it a big deal.”

“After a couple of years of initiatives like this and other places, it’s just gonna be another thing,” he said. “That’s what we hope for. We always say that if we do our job right, we’ll be out of a job in a few years. It’s a bad business plan, but all we really care about is saving some lives.”

This Must Be the Place displays an array of educational resources at its booth at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Anissa Sanchez/Reporting Texas