Heather Starbuck is spreading awareness about the opioid crisis by hiking the Appalachian Trail after losing her fiancé Matt Adams about 9 months ago to a heroin overdose. Heather and Matt had just gotten engaged in Boulder, Colorado at the end of last summer and were looking forward to sharing the news with their friends and family. Unfortunately, Matt lost his battle with addiction before they got the chance to do so. He was two years sober at the time of his relapse.
Matt’s addiction started with prescription painkillers for an injury in his early twenties. He struggled with addiction for 6 years before meeting Heather and had just started to recover shortly before they began to date. His relapse was unexpected and his death changed Heather’s entire life.
After learning that the Appalachia region is at the heart of the epidemic, with over 54,000 deaths in the area since 1999, Starbuck decided to walk 2,200 miles on the trail to help her grieve and share Matt’s story along the way. Although she had little experience hiking or backpacking, she decided to embark on her journey on March 24, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, in hopes of connecting with others with similar stories and experiences.
Starbuck started a foundation in Matt’s name, Matt’s Purple Bandana A Walk for Opioid Recovery. She hikes with a purple bandana that is visible at all times during her hike and hands one out to people she meets and connects with along the way. The bandana is a symbol of overdose awareness and a reminder of Matt, who wore one every single day.
“I was grieving and wanted to have a way to honor Matt and honor his life,” Starbuck said. “He really reached back out, and I wanted to kind of extend his legacy … and thought I could find a lot of healing out here as well.”
She plans to finish her 6-month long journey on September 12, the anniversary of Matt’s death.