By Peter Coutu Staff writer, Virginian Pilot
Archie Boone Jr. has been anticipating the Something in the Water festival since tickets went on sale in March.
The 35-year-old Norfolk resident plans to camp at the Oceanfront until Sunday, when the inaugural event ends.
But his goal is not to sing along to Missy Elliott or dance to Diplo.
Boone will be scanning the crowd for signs of people overdosing.
Equipped with Narcan — a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose — Boone will be easy to spot. He’ll be wearing a white-and-black T-shirt that states his mission this weekend: “prevent overdoses.”
Major music festivals can be hotspots for widespread substance use. Last September, two people died and 700 others sought medical help after using drugs at the Defqon.1 festival in Sydney, Australia, according to the New York Times. Each death brings a renewed debate around the use of recreational drugs at such events.
While the Something in the Water festival bans illegal substances, volunteers, law enforcement and medics are taking precautions to treat or prevent overdoses.
With the rise of fentanyl, an opioid more powerful than morphine, people could unknowingly take “party” drugs like ecstasy that have been cut with a more deadly substance, said Chaniece Winfield, the addiction coordinator for Old Dominion University’s counseling and human services department.
This weekend, Boone will work to prevent those worst-case scenarios. But he won’t be alone. With a blessing from the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission’s observer program, he and three volunteers will be watching for those in trouble.
“We’ll be out, and with our eyes and our ears, we’ll know,” he said. “And when we know, and where there’s a need, we’ll fulfill the need.”
‘Recovery is possible’
For Boone, a native of the Norview and Park Place neighborhoods, the mission is personal. He can remember standing on local high school football fields doing “Just Say No” campaigns with his mom, whom he said was instrumental in the Norfolk prevention community.
But somewhere along the line, his focus changed.
Around his 11th birthday, he said, he became addicted to various substances.
While growing up, rap wasn’t allowed in his house — just jazz, which his mom would play while cleaning the house. On Saturday mornings, Boone would head to a local barbershop where he said he learned what was cool. He listened to Clipse, the Virginia Beach rap duo whose songs often dealt with drug dealing.
“When you look at a group like Clipse, and you listen to their music — I grew up on the sidelines of that,” Boone said. “It was glorified. There was nothing wrong with what I was doing at 11 in my community.”
For much of his teenage years, his mom sent him to a private school in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until he returned to Norfolk at 19 that he realized he’d become someone his mom didn’t raise him to be.
“It broke my heart,” he said.
So he got sober — and has stayed that way since Jan. 11, 2002, he said. He found salvation in music — rapping himself and often focusing on his struggles with addiction.
And he started giving back to the community, at first informally, until 2016, when he landed an official position with the Norfolk Community Services Board.
He traveled across the country — to Las Vegas, Orlando and Buffalo, New York — for training on how to battle the opioid epidemic. He learned how to administer Narcan, which he said he has not personally had to give someone yet. He started stocking the opioid antagonist in his home in 2018.
Boone became certified for the Revive overdose-prevention training and taught others how to use the antidote, including dozens of Eastern Virginia Medical School students and hundreds of sheriff’s deputies.
“(The work) has given me a stage — a platform to reach people to say: ‘Recovery is possible,'” he explained.
On Wednesday, at a coffee shop on Granby Street, Boone talked about his plan for the weekend.
He’ll be part of two outreach activities the Norfolk Community Services Board has planned for the festival. In a public area, a group is providing recovery support services for people with mental illness or those battling addiction.
The board also bought four tickets, at a total cost of nearly $1,000, so another team, including Boone, can attend the Virginia Beach festival. Grant funding covered the costs for both, Norfolk spokeswoman Lori Crouch said.
Home base for Boone’s group will be a Virginia Beach condominium on 25th Street, and the peer recovery specialist has another spot on 18th Street. From a seemingly endless bag, which reads “#ICarryNaloxone” on the back, Boone pulled item after item that his group will carry this weekend.
They’ll have pamphlets outlining how to get help, iPads to collect people’s anonymous risk assessments, and, of course, Narcan.
The goal, Boone said, is simple: “Prevent overdose deaths.”
With the possible presence of strong substances like fentanyl, there’s an increased urgency to have these supplies, Winfield said. The early minutes of an overdose are vital to saving someone’s life.
Since the state issued a standing order in 2016 allowing anyone to carry naloxone, the antidote has become much more prevalent, Boone said. Virginia Beach police, firefighters and Emergency Medical Services have all carted Narcan for years and will be equipped with it this weekend, said police spokeswoman Linda Kuehn.
“We are prepared on any given day of the year to respond and assist in overdose situations,” she wrote in an email.
In addition to Boone’s group and local police, the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission’s observer program will monitor the event and later report its findings. Boone is working in conjunction with that group but is not a volunteer, said the commission’s chair, Sylvia Nery-Strickland.
She is asking for feedback from Boone’s team to possibly adapt it into the official observer program next year.
Even just awareness of the risks, and the availability of Narcan, can be instrumental in preventing an overdose, Boone said.
“That’s the main thing,” he said. “We want people — citizens — to feel empowered to actually save a life.”
And this weekend, while the music is blaring, Boone stands ready to revive.
Peter Coutu, firstname.lastname@example.org