Aug. 26—Michael "Blasti" Gormley and Dr. Jeremy Dubin started at vastly different points, but now they're meeting somewhere in the middle.
Together, they're doing something that has received unexpected support from the Fort Collins, Colorado community, and may ripple to impact the Front Range as their cause of de-stigmatizing substance addiction gains more exposure.
"When this started, I was a little nervous," Dubin told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Thursday. "I didn't know how this was going to be received. And as I talked to more and more people and community leaders and politicians and folks that are in our shared communities, I didn't know what I was gonna get.
"Everyone I spoke to, whether they were in politics, or they were in medicine, or they were in education, or they were in music — it touched everybody, and everyone had something to say."
But turn back the clock, and the two community leaders were in very different places — Dubin studying to become an addiction physician, and Gormley bouncing around northern New Jersey and Brooklyn as a musician and bartender.
Dubin is now the medical director of Front Range Health Clinic, one of Colorado's largest outpatient substance abuse clinics. Gormley is the director of Blast N' Scrap, a nonprofit organization with the goal of supporting young, emerging musicians and artists by providing a space for them to perform or display their work.
Both musicians with a personal investment in the Fort Collins music scene, the two have found common ground in helping combat substance abuse and addiction in their community.
In many ways, fighting the addiction epidemic begins with dismantling the stigma surrounding it, just as they and many others aim to do with the Fight the Stigma Festival at The Lyric on Sept. 8.
"One of the things that I've run into, not only in general society, but even people that are invested in this mission, is stigma," Dubin said. "We all have stigma internally and externally when it comes to addiction and mental health issues, and it's really common."
Opioid addiction has been on the rise for years, but the stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are believed to have played a significant role of increasing drug and alcohol abuse among Americans. Among the figures is what Dubin said is another 30% increase in statistics tracking overdoses, mortality rates, relapses and suicide.
According to statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths doubled from 2016 to 2021. Those numbers continue to rise — and reset the previous record — with over 107,000 deaths being attributed to drug overdoses in 2022.
The stigma of drug use can be complex, extending beyond common stereotypes. Some may develop an addiction to opioids following severe injury, or, as Dubin explains, might be a blue-collar worker that, despite their best efforts, can't seem to quit drinking, or a "soccer mom" who becomes trapped in a lonely "fentanyl spiral."
It was Dubin who conceived the Fight the Stigma Festival. For years, he has identified the need to create a space where it's "OK to not be OK."
"A lot of folks are consumed with shame when it comes to the idea that there's something wrong with them, or that if they ask for help that it is a moral failing," he said. "That it means that they're weak, when that couldn't be further from the truth.
"What we understand now in medicine is that this is just like having diabetes or hypertension, that folks don't choose to be addicted or choose to have mental health issues. Often they're vulnerable to it because of their family history or some genetics and the right environment kindling (an addiction)."
The medical community still largely operates in crisis management, responding to and gathering statistics based on overdose deaths, rather than early signs and symptoms that addiction is developing.
This may be due to the fact that addiction is what Dubin refers to as a "family condition" — one that is developed as a result of other factors, like mental health conditions or abuse, similar to the correlations between diabetes and high blood pressure.
"It's sad that so many folks have had to die for us to bring this to the forefront, as far as education, the idea that treatment works, the idea that it is a chronic condition," Dubin said. "The more that we can accept that as a community, the more that we can forgive ourselves and each other for being vulnerable to these conditions and them having these conditions, the better folks are going to be able to access treatment then actually get treatment and be active contributors in our society."
There was a point in time where Michael "Blasti" Gormley was stuck in this cycle.
Initially, he was a lunchtime bartender at a spot in Brooklyn before becoming the local talent buyer at the defunct Knitting Factory Brooklyn.
Gormley will be the first to tell someone his story, how for years he drank himself out of booking jobs at different clubs before getting clean and making his way to Fort Collins. There, he assumed responsibility of the arts and craft store Who Gives a SCRAP, conveniently located next to the horror video store, The Gorehound's Playground — a personal interest of Gormley's.
Through a series of events, he came into the space now occupied by his nonprofit, Blast N' Scrap, a name that pays homage his nickname, "Blasti," and the business where he gained footing in the community. The organization provides a place for young local bands to perform without a cover charge. There is no alcohol sold or permitted at the location, and, as a result, no age requirement.
"We very much were and still are the place your band plays your first show," Gormley said. "There's no alcohol served, it's an arts and crafts store, I don't drink, parents feel safe about dropping their kids off here. This is the place where you become a stage manager for the first time; where you're a production manager for the first time."
An event like Fight the Stigma is special to Gormley, and producing events like the Fight the Stigma Festival is rapidly becoming a bigger part of his mission to provide more opportunity for musicians to perform, and for the community to hear live, local music.
A diverse lineup of 30 bands are scheduled to perform, including The Patti Fiasco, fronted by Encampment, Wyoming-born Alysia Kraft, who now lives in Fort Collins, and well-publicized punk outfit Plasma Canvas. The live music is a vehicle to attract community members to the event, in addition to being a form of upbeat entertainment to maintain a lively atmosphere.
As with every Blast N' Scrap event, the festival is free in an attempt not to exclude anyone who may have trouble paying a cover charge. It is also designed to be an accepting place for all lifestyles.
A lineup of community leaders has also come forward to support the event, many of whom will speak either in person or by video at the event, including several local medical professionals, law enforcement officials, former and current local politicians, musicians, teachers, professors and Jeni Arndt, the mayor of Fort Collins.
Sponsors have chipped in, and the event has become something bigger than Dubin and Gormley had expected. If they had it their way, this will be something that sticks around in Fort Collins, and possibly expands to the rest of the Front Range, including Cheyenne.
"It's going to be a thing where if you need community, you should have access, regardless. That's important," Gormley said. "If people don't have access to the community, then they get worse. So it was kind of ingrained in what we did from the start, just in terms of that I wasn't wanting to make somebody feel like they just weren't allowed to be part of a music community on a local level because of finances.
"If it seems like that person wants to be there and wants to be involved, it will contribute even more, but that's not why you let them in. You let them in because people need a place, so it did kind of spawned from there, and then lots of good causes came our way."
Will Carpenter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's Arts and Entertainment/Features Reporter. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.