Overdoses and open use on West Broadway

Some of the reported overdoses on W Broadway Ave. have occurred in or around the bus shelters, which serve as social gathering places.  Photo by David Pierini

Some of the reported overdoses on W Broadway Ave. have occurred in or around the bus shelters, which serve as social gathering places. Photo by David Pierini

This story is part of a series on how the opioid crisis has hit the Northside that ran in the 9/27 print edition of North News.

By Abdi Mohamed Staff Reporter

As DonEsther Morris walked down W Broadway Ave. on Sept. 17 she encountered a man passed out in his car. She believed he was overdosing. Morris carries Narcan, an opioid overdose reversing drug, in her backpack, and she administered it. After pulling the man out of the car, Morris gave the man a second dose. A nurse who was in the area then administered CPR. Police arrived and gave the man a third dose of Narcan, and he finally resumed breathing.

In an emotional Facebook post later that day, Morris recounted the incident: “It was the first time I saw all of us come together to save that man’s life, and we did it without any regard for the color of anyone’s skin,” she said. The man appeared to be white. Morris is black. “And when it was over and we saw him breathing again we all applauded because we all worked together as a team.”

She revealed it was the fourth overdose she had encountered while out on W Broadway Ave. with A Mother’s Love, a local street outreach group dedicated to curbing violence and working to heal those in the community who have dealt with trauma. Morris serves as the program director of the group which acts as an informal first responder to these type of incidents.

Scenes like this have become common on the corridor.

During the first eight months of this year, W Broadway Ave. was the location of many of the 154 overdose calls to the Minneapolis Police Department made to the Fourth Precinct, many times in front of a business on the corridor. The corridor is home to many important community establishments, including pharmacies, grocery stories, restaurants, and churches. But in recent years the area, particularly between Lyndale and Emerson has also become home to a growing drug problem brought on in part by the opioid crisis. People are found passed out in public spaces such as bus stops and around businesses.

Tommy Cohen, the co-owner of Merwin Liquors, has operated the store for the past four years. He says he has been increasingly aware of the issue of drugs on the corridor. “I’ve seen a clear increase of drug-related activity along the corridor,” Cohen said. The liquor store is located in a strip mall next to a Cricket Wireless store and a check-cashing store.

Like many business owners on W Broadway, Cohen is concerned with what he sees as a lack of coordination on dealing with this issue. “I know there are a lot of groups and people with great ideas in terms of improving the situation. I wish there was a better level of coordination between the city, the police and the community to address the issue,” he said.

Many employees and managers of businesses in the area declined to speak on the record for this story due to corporate guidelines barring them from public comment. One employee at a retail business spoke under the condition of anonymity, saying they see ambulances in their parking lot responding to overdoses and pointed to their private security officer as a way they ensure the safety of their customers. Many businesses have locked their bathrooms due to individuals coming and overdosing in their store with one employee stating it was for the safety of customers and staff to close the restrooms.

Last Spring, KB Brown witnessed an overdose take place across the street from his business. Brown and his wife Katie operate Wolfpack Promotionals and were attending to customers when they noticed an individual passed out at the bus stop near the Capri Theater. Brown luckily had a Narcan kit and raced over to resuscitate the man.

He carries Narcan because he wants to make sure “we have the means to help if someone is having an overdose in our immediate vicinity.” His business also carries EpiPens in case someone needs one. Brown’s relationship with Sober Squad, a narcotics anonymous group, played a role in his business being able to get ahold of Narcan.

Brown moved his business onto W Broadway Ave. over four years ago from Northeast and has been an engaged member of the business community on the corridor. He currently serves as the secretary on the board of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition. Brown sees business owners as being on the “front line” when it comes to the battle with opioids on the corridor. He says that he would like to see every business equipped with Narcan and an EpiPen in case of an incident.

Brown and many business owners point to the lack of police presence on W Broadway Ave. and see that as a major factor as to the large amount of overdoses taking place. When speaking to the day sergeant of the Minneapolis Police Department, Brown learned that there was only a handful of officers made available for the entire Northside and felt as though that was inadequate for the area's needs. He also shared his desire to see some more resources given to business owners on W Broadway Ave. to deal with overdoses if they were to arise. “I would like to see funds set aside to help with that. It’s time for the business community to be involved with litigating this crisis,” he said.

Although the issue is recognized by many in the community, the lack of response from local officials to create an action plan has created some frustration. Business owners and community members whose work depends on the safety and activity in the corridor seek answers as to when this issue will be addressed more vocally by those with the resources. Millions of dollars are being moved through city and state budgets potentially to address the issue of opioid abuse and Northside residents and business owners hope to see some of that allocated to their community as it has been to other parts of the city.

Abdi Mohamed