Minneapolis is facing an opioid epidemic with the city’s increasing overdose rates alarming many, including local marketing agency, SixSpeed.
Grant Parsons, a creative director for the company, has lost people in his life because of drug addiction. It was those addictions and overdoses among loved ones that became one of the reasons he wanted to leave his hometown in Arizona.
“At the time that I was growing up and going to high school I had a lot of friends that suffered from addiction,” Parsons said. “In a lot of respects, I actually chose coming up to Minnesota for college and stuck around after that as a way to get away from some of that stuff.”
In more recent years, he has learned that those struggles were not unique to one area. From 2017 to 2021, fatal opioid overdoses in Minneapolis increased by 130%. Previous MinnPost reporting looked at how Minneapolis has been hit by fentanyl and the rising number of overdose deaths.
“You come to find that it’s not regional. It’s kind of a nationwide epidemic and it rears its head differently. It’s sad regardless where you go. I’m sure all of us know someone through ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ that is suffering from this and you might just not know,” Parsons said.
At SixSpeed they recognized that many employees have personal connections to overdoses – and they wanted to find a way to reduce the number of fatal overdoses. They thought about ways to make naloxone – a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose – more accessible to everybody.
“At this point, I think everybody has been touched by it (overdoses) in some form or fashion and it was a lot of people at the agency that it had direct impact with loved ones,” said Kevin Reilly, the CEO OF SixSpeed. “It came out of just more of a brainstorm about community efforts, and how can we serve the community more. The idea came about that one of the core issues right now is just lack of availability of Narcan (naloxone) in areas of need.”
People from their team met with Southside Harm Reduction Services, an organization that connects people with supplies for reducing harm, like Narcan, test strips and sterile syringes. They also provide trainings to others on how to use Narcan, so people are informed and able to step in during an emergency.
“They (SixSpeed) reached out to us,” said Zachary Johnson, a program director with Southside Harm Reduction Services. “That happens every once in a while where a for-profit … will reach out and ask how they can get involved and volunteer and support. But their outreach to us was a little bit different in that they wanted to specifically talk about this project. I think they had this project in mind already.”
Through their conversations, the company decided its approach would be to put boxes with a free supply of nasal naloxone in various locations. Last week, the first box was placed at the agency’s office in St. Louis Park.
Little Free ‘Reviveries’
The goal is for the boxes, known as Little Free “Reviveries,” to be supplied with 40 doses of nasal naloxone, and restock them weekly, Parsons said. The company chose nasal naloxone, which is more expensive – up to 40 times more than intramuscular – Johnson said. It does have certain advantages, like being easier to use and less invasive to the body. Johnson said if the reviveries can be financially sustained, they would make a big impact in the Twin Cities.
“I think it’s a step in the direction that we’d like to see more broadly around harm reduction in naloxone access and overdose prevention,” Johnson said. “We’d love to see these kinds of Narcan stations positioned around like you would see an AED (automated external defibrillator) machine in the same kind of style and location, like inside businesses, which would really help address access.”
Having these boxes around public places will also will get at reducing the stigma associated with drug use and addiction. SixSpeed intentionally wanted it to be clear what the boxes are meant for.
“The reason people are not proactive (in talking about addiction) is because there’s such a stigma attached,” Johnson said. “This kind of a project really addresses stigma in a big way. To have an ad agency make good quality Narcan stations, and then do the work of outreach to businesses, venues, libraries and places like that, really helps address stigma and accessibility at the same time.”
There’s a big need for Narcan in the city. Johnson estimates that Southside Harm Reduction Services goes through around 10,000 doses of intramuscular Narcan every six weeks. It has more funding through grants to sustain that, but SixSpeed is fundraising to sustain the initiative.
SixSpeed has raised under $1,000 in public funding so far, according to Reilly, the company’s CEO. Parsons said two doses of nasal Narcan costs between $35-$50 right now, which would total between $700 and $1000 to supply a revivery with 40 doses.
This week, SixSpeed plans to open another revivery with the help of a community partner near Broadway in north Minneapolis.