Traci Couture Richmond lost her sister to a fentanyl overdose two years ago.
Couture Richmond said her sister, Kristin Couture, was well-educated and had great jobs in health care before she got addicted to pain pills and her life spiraled out of control. She initially used the prescribed pills to manage pain from legitimate injuries.
When her prescriptions stopped, she looked for alternatives and turned to buying pills on the street. The road eventually turned to meth, heroin and cocaine.
“If it can happen to our family, it can happen to any family,” she said.
The death inspired her to join the Spokane Alliance for Fentanyl Education (SAFE) and use her sister’s story to spread awareness about the fentanyl crisis.
That awareness continues Saturday as SAFE presents its Fall Festival, which features country music star Maren Morris, at the U.S. Pavilion in Riverfront Park.
“We all have to work on it, and the first step is talking and learning about it,” said Marsha Malsam, CEO at Rayce Rudeen Foundation, of which SAFE is a part.
Besides musical performances, the festival will offer resources and information about fentanyl education, addiction recovery and available support services. Counselors, medical professionals, law enforcement and representatives from local organizations, including substance abuse programs, will be on site.
Country music singer Chris Young headlined last year’s festival.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Washington, the annual number of opioid drug overdose deaths has nearly doubled, from 827 deaths in 2019 to 1,619 in 2021, the state Department of Health said.
Couture Richmond, a SAFE board member, said she hopes attendees talk to organizations to learn what resources are available to those struggling with addiction. She said parents can especially benefit from the event.
“I love that this event brings the community together to make it safe for parents to become educated,” she said.
Couture Richmond said she often tells her children not to take pills if they don’t know where the pill came from.
“We are seeing more and more kids that are unintentionally becoming poisoned with fentanyl,” she said.
Couture Richmond’s sister was 38 when she overdosed on methamphetamine and fentanyl in 2021. She said her sister battled addiction for 10 years before her death.
Couture Richmond said she believes her sister did not realize the meth she bought was laced with fentanyl.
“I think that all too often we attach so much stigma to people who are dealing with the disease of addiction or with the disease of substance use, and instead of considering it a medical condition, we are treating them like they are lower-class citizens, and my sister was not a lower-class citizen,” she said.
Sammy Eubanks, a guitarist and vocalist from Post Falls, is one of the acts that will perform prior to Morris. He performed at last year’s festival.
Eubanks considers himself a “former addict,” but his drug of choice was cocaine. He said he’s been clean of the drug for 31 years.
“Having gone through that, I feel a responsibility to let people know that … if they want to get out, there is help,” he said.
He recalled the date, June 8, 1992, that he quit cocaine. He used it before going on stage to perform at a club.
While on stage, his skin became tight, his pulse raced and he had trouble breathing. He said he felt like he was going to die.
“I said, ‘God, get me through this and I’m done,’ ” Eubanks said.
During his next break from playing, he flushed the remaining cocaine he had down the toilet and hasn’t done it since.
As for fentanyl, Eubanks called it a “death sentence.”
Tickets for the festival cost $25 and are available at spokanepavilion.com. Doors open at 3 p.m.