Two men — Brett Bramble and John Azerolo — and a dog named Domino, walked the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Lincoln Monument and other District attractions before they strolled along Route 40 in Baltimore last week for a cause that’s gripped the nation: overdose awareness.
The two, who began their East Coast Overdose Awareness Walk in Key West, Florida, in January and plan to end it in Fort Kent, Maine, in August, stopped at the U.S. Capitol in Washington and in neighborhoods around Route 40 through Baltimore to Delaware, greeting passersby and others to present their message of hope and awareness.
“We had a great time in Washington, D.C., and in Baltimore despite all of the rain,” said Bramble, who lost his sister, Brittany, in 2014 to an overdose.
Bramble lamented the “lack of communication” between his mission and government officials but praised residents whom he and Azerolo were able to speak with and share their message.
“We had a chance to speak to a group of eighth graders in front of the Vietnam War Memorial and we were able to speak to folks in Baltimore along Route 40 and they were very supportive of the message,” Bramble said.
For Azerolo, the walk is also personal. Two of his dearest friends lost daughters to drug overdose, one of whom left behind a small child.
“I want to dedicate my miles to the children who are left behind and being raised by grandparents or in foster care,” Azerolo said.
The pair picked up Domino, their trusted 40-pound lab-mix female, in Atlanta from a rescue shelter.
Most importantly, their mission is to bring awareness to the opioid overdose death toll that Bramble and Azerolo said is stealing a generation, and they are seeking to spread a message of hope and recovery and to raise donations and support for “Freedom to Grow Retreat,” a future recovery community.
In addition to donations, along the way they’ve picked up several sponsors including Georgia Overdose Prevention; the Bridge to Recovery Foundation; The Addict’s Mom; Darn Tough of Vermont; and CEP Sportswear.
To date, they’ve walked more than 2,400 miles at an average of 20 miles per day.
Bramble and Azerolo have also tracked the number of overdose deaths in the United States.
According to their tally, in 2012 there were 41,502 overdose deaths in the country — an average of 114 per day — and the numbers have continued to rise each year. The men said there were 64,070 overdose deaths in the nation in 2016, or 175 per day.
“These numbers do not lie — our nation is in a crisis,” Bramble said. “More and more people are falling victim every day. In the 1990s, it was a very popular trend to have an excess of prescription medication in every household. No one knew the harm until children began sneaking into their parent’s medicine cabinet and misusing addictive drugs.”
He and Azerolo said others became addicted after an injury and couldn’t get off the medicine, many times because they didn’t realize the harm since the doctor was the one giving them the medication.
Over time, once money or prescriptions ran out, those who had become addicted to these medications would seek alternatives from street drug dealers, Bramble said.
“The drug cartels capitalized on this opioid pain reliever trend in the U.S. and began flooding our streets with cheaper and stronger heroin,” he said. “The face of heroin changed as it found its way into mainstream America. Right under everyone’s nose, people began using heroin and overdose rates started rising every year. The problem has only gotten worse now as fentanyl has been introduced into the crisis.
“Fentanyl is an even cheaper and stronger alternative to heroin and is being mixed in with many street drugs,” Bramble said. “The overdose death rate is becoming an alarming reality to many families from all walks of life.”
To learn more about the walk or to donate, go to www.freedomtogrowretreat.org and www.brettbramblewalks.com.