See a concert, save a life: Valentine's Day event aims to help Pittsburghers show love a different way this year | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

See a concert, save a life: Valentine's Day event aims to help Pittsburghers show love a different way this year

click to enlarge Mary Wander - PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER RIGGS
Photo: Christopher Riggs
Mary Wander
Themes of love and compassion swirl the media, ads, and even grocery store aisles as February 14 approaches each year, yet most of it is artificial.

"Valentine's Day is super cheesy," says John Warmb of DIY punk rock band Rent Strike. "You go buy cards and a little piece of plastic for people you're supposed to care about, but I think a real act of compassion is to approach this conversation with an open mind."

The conversation Warmb is referring to is the topic of overdose and opioid addiction. This Valentine's Day, instead of (or maybe in addition to) gifting flowers and chocolates, Warmb is hoping Pittsburghers come to The Mr. Roboto Project, where he is hosting a joint overdose reversal training session and concert.

"A huge part of the presentation is not just 'We'll train you to use Narcan,' but also how to recognize overdose because it's not always intuitive," says Warmb. "A huge part of the importance is breaking down the stigma that exists around the conversation. Let's talk about why people are dying. Let's talk about not leaving people alone and forcing people into isolation because they choose to use drugs. Let's talk about keeping each other safe."

Providing the one-hour training session is Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to providing health empowerment services to injection drug users," where Warmb has been volunteering since the fall when he moved to Pittsburgh from Lansing, Mich.

"Prevention Point is a really fantastic group of people," he says. "It's been where I've put a lot of my energy."

In recent years, opioid abuse in Western Pa., specifically Pittsburgh, has been some of the highest in the country. In 2018, however, fatal overdoses in Allegheny County dropped by more than 40% — after a record-breaking high of 737 overdose deaths 2017, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer — thanks in part to access to Narcan.

The opioid crisis also touched down in Lansing, where Warmb says he and many others he knew dealt with deaths close to them because of the issue. While living there, Warmb ran a house venue, and he and his friends put a great deal of work into starting a syringe access program. Also referred to as a needle exchange, the program helps prevent the spread of disease by reducing the usage of shared needles and provides substance use and healthcare services.

"One of the effective ways of outreach to reach a lot of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be talking about and thinking about the opioid crisis was doing outreach through DIY spaces," says Warmb. "Specifically, the house venue I was running. I wanted to recreate the model and see how it worked here."

After the training session at the Mr. Roboto Project on Friday, attendees can enjoy performances from Warmb as a solo Rent Strike, slam-poet Zeca Gonzalez, folk singer Justin Arena, and folk/punk artist Mary Wander.

"Finding artist support was incredibly easy and humbling," says Warmb. "One of my friends who's playing, Mary Wander from Lancaster, Pa., is someone who is also very committed and has done a lot of work towards harm reduction. And they are very outspoken and vocal about it in their music. It makes me extremely appreciative about the state of things in the music scene. People are ready to have these conversations, and are ready to learn and help keep each other safe."

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