Ingela Travers-Hayward and William Perry crisscross the country to give away overdose-reversing medicine at America’s biggest music festivals.
The couple plans to attend 27 fests this year, including Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park on Aug. 3-6. Other major festivals they have attended include Burning Man and Bonnaroo.
When it’s time to hit the road, the Ohio-based duo, both 38, pack a rental van with blue IKEA duffels filled with Kloxxado, a naloxone spray that was donated to them by the manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals.
At festivals, Travers-Hayward, a former television producer, and Perry, a recovery counselor, adorn their booth with photos of their corgi, MarMar. (The dog has become the mascot of their nonprofit, This Must be the Place).
They hand out the nasal spray, which can cost more than $100 without insurance, on lanyards so partygoers can quickly administer it in crowded spaces. They instruct attendees to do the following: Tilt a person’s head back, insert the nozzle into a nostril and press the plunger.
Travers-Hayward said the festivals don’t charge to set up the booth, and sometimes provide a stipend to cover travel.
Last year in Cook County more than 1,800 people died from an overdose involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid increasingly found in recreational drugs like Molly, meth, Adderall, cocaine and even CBD gummies. And city health officials say people should now assume fentanyl is in almost any drug purchased on the street.
Though most overdoses occur in homes or on streets, Travers-Hayward and Perry know the combination of music, alcohol and the desire to let go make festivals ripe for overdoses.
The couple says their job comes down to being in the right place at the right time to save someone’s life. Perry speaks from experience. He said he and his friends “did a lot of partying” in the late 1990s in Columbus, Ohio. He snuck into clubs and concerts using his big brother’s ID. That ended with 17 of his friends dying from drug overdoses.
Perry said his own drug addiction landed him in prison.
But it also led him to Travers-Hayward. The couple met while Travers-Hayward was working on a documentary about COVID-19 outbreaks in Ohio prisons. Perry had recently been released and was working as a recovery counselor at a local treatment facility.
The duo fell in love, got married and founded their nonprofit.
Now, they race across the country with their duffels, working with festival organizers to make their venues safer. When they cover concurrent festivals, the couple compete for who can give away more naloxone kits. At Lollapalooza, they aim to hand out roughly 4,000 doses.
But playing the role of the “de facto peer counselor” for hours on end can get exhausting, Travers-Hayward said. So unless Pitbull is headlining, she rushes back to their hotel room as soon as the day ends and orders pizza.
Perry said he might stick around to see a rock band like The Killers or The 1975 to enjoy the music, which was key to his recovery. Sometimes, instead of watching the performers he said he watches the fans in the crowd “having the time of their lives.”
Anna Savchenko is a reporter for WBEZ. You can reach her at @annasavchenkoo.