By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Little Earth Community says it has been hit hard by the nation-wide opioid epidemic, but it has figured out a way to empower people who live there to save lives. Purple ribbons are plastered on doors and windows at Little Earth so people in crisis know where to go.

“We were drowning in the opioid epidemic before anybody else was and nobody cared,” resident Jolene Jones said. “When you’re drowning you either swim or die, and we weren’t going to sit here and let our people die.”

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Drug overdoses are a daily reality in and around the Little Earth Community in Minneapolis. But overdose deaths at Little Earth are far less common since leaders decided to take action.

“We have empowered our residents to do something rather than to feel helpless in the situation,” Jones said.

Walk around Little Earth’s housing units and you’ll notice purple ribbons plastered on doors and windows. These ribbons are saving lives.

“We ask them to put them in our windows, put them on our doors so that residents know where to go,” Jones said.

If residents have the purple ribbon on their door it means they have Narcan inside; that’s the injection used to reverse the effects of an overdose. Leaders say they have to use it often.

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“Way before the paramedics ever had Narcan, we did,” Jones said. “We had to find our own solutions.”

Little Earth resident Lori Zappa has a ribbon on her door. She said that she’s had to use Narcan in the past, on her own daughter. That’s why she’s always prepared now to save another life.

“I keep it right here so it’s very handy,” Zappa said. “It’s very scary, and there’s so many people around here that use.”

Little Earth trains its people on chest compression methods and Narcan use twice a year. They’re training people who don’t even live on their property, and children as young as 11 years old. Because they believe everyone deserves a chance to recover.

The Little Earth community has been doing this for roughly eight years. They say it absolutely works. They unfortunately lost a young woman to an overdose a few months ago on their property, but leaders say she was the first person to die from an overdose in more than two years.

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WCCO’s Erin Hassanzadeh has done a series of reports how the work of saving lives may be creating unintended consequence. Click here or here to see those stories.

Erin Hassanzadeh