From Key West to Fort Kent, Trio Walks for Overdose Awareness

Walking across America to raise awareness about the fatal potential of opioid overdoses are (left to right) John Azerolo, Jessica Grieb, and Brett Bramble. The trio reached Calais on July 31st. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Sarah Craighead 

Dedmon

 

After losing his sister Brittany to an opioid overdose, Brett Bramble walked from Delaware to San Francisco to raise awareness about opioid overdose deaths. “It engaged with quite a lot of people,” said Bramble. “When I got back home to Atlanta it was only a couple of months before I was planning the next one.” 

In January he left Key West, Florida on that next walk, the East Coast Overdose Awareness Walk. Now he’s working his way through Washington County with his dog Domino and walking partners John Azerolo and Jessica Grieb. Everywhere they go people stop them and share their stories.

“They want to talk to us, and we want to talk to them. Nine times out of 10 they’re affected in some way,” said Bramble. “I think there hasn’t been one day [we] have not been on the side of the road crying.”

“The country’s in a lot of pain.” 

Maine lost more than 400 people to drug overdoses in 2017, and 13 of those deaths were in Washington County. In 2016 Washington County had the most overdose deaths per capita of any county in Maine.

“Since we have come into Maine people have told us, ‘Wait until you get to Washington County, Washington County’s so bad.’ But you know what? It’s not just Washington County,” said Bramble. “Everywhere we go, it’s there too.”

Azerolo didn’t know much about the opioid overdose epidemic when he first signed up to walk, but that changed quickly. Between the time he said yes and the time they began walking two close friends lost daughters to overdoses.

“The one that passed away from a heroin overdose left behind a small child,” said Azerolo. “At that point I said if I’m doing this walk, I’m doing it for all the kids that have been left motherless and fatherless.” Azerolo lives in St. Louis.

Grieb lives in South Carolina and has a deeply personal connection to the walk. She lost her brother to an overdose in 2015 and is now in recovery. “I’ve struggled myself, been trying to get clean on and off for awhile now.” Grieb’s parents hosted Bramble and Azerolo when they walked through South Carolina. 

“After [Bramble and Azerolo] left I wasn’t really doing too good. I was struggling,” she said. “I ended up just coming up here, and I was staying with some family. Then I ended up reaching out to them.” 

Grieb joined the others in Ellsworth and said the walk has been good for her. “Obviously, getting off of everything there’s a lot of guilt and shame, thinking about the past a lot,” she said. “[Walking] I can actually stay in the moment.”

The trio walks 20 miles a day on average, and Bramble said the Maine hills are more challenging than the rest of the route. They have a support vehicle that meets them every few days, but they push everything they need in the meantime in their decorated jog strollers.

Azerolo said the walking is actually the easiest part. “It’s dealing with the roadside encounters [that’s hard]. You’re either in tears or you’re laughing, most of the time you’re doing both,” he said. “That’s the hard part.”

Money raised from the East Coast Overdose Awareness Walk goes to a nonprofit Bramble formed called Freedom to Grow. 

“We’re trying to start a farm in Georgia where people can come to work on the mental health aspects of recovery. Not just addiction alone, but [for] people with troubled pasts,” said Bramble.

As he makes his way to Fort Kent, Bramble said he hopes people will get out and walk part of the way with them. “If anybody wants to stop and talk to us, we always welcome that. If you want to walk with us, we always welcome that,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep up.”

“It’s not about the speed. It’s about the persistence.”

 

To follow Bramble’s blog visit brettbramblewalks.com, to donate to the recovery farm project, Freedom to Grow, visit freedomtogrowretreat.org.