Outside a fire station in south Minneapolis, a vending machine that can save a life with the push of a button.

Life-saving medications that quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose are now available for free at the city’s first Narcan vending machine.

“We want everyone to have the tools to save lives,” said Minneapolis Health Commissioner Damon Chaplin, noting that the opioid crisis is hitting many families personally, including his own.

“It’s as simple as pushing a button and getting a box out of the machine,” he said. “There’s no judgment and no stigma. We want people to be able to get a box when they need it and in an emergency.”

The neighborhoods around Fire Station 21 have more opioid overdoses than anywhere else in the city. So far this year, 74 suspected overdoses. Four dead.

Near the intersection of Minnehaha Avenue and 38th Street, the fire station’s new vending machine offers a lifeline. With the push of a button, a box of two doses of naloxone, the active ingredient in Narcan, is dispensed. When someone overdoses on a drug like fentanyl, a quick spray of naloxone up the nostril can keep them breathing until paramedics arrive.

The machine is accessible 24 hours a day, no questions asked. It is there for anyone who needs it, or knows someone who might need it.

Christopher Burks, program director of the Twin Cities Recovery Project, stood next to the machine as it was unveiled Wednesday, fighting back tears. He is living proof of the good naloxone can do. He battled substance use disorder for 30 years, from crack to meth to opioids, until he entered long-term recovery four years ago. Narcan was one reason he lived long enough to see that day.

“You have to know that naloxone saves lives,” Burks said. “I wouldn’t be standing here if it didn’t.”

He shared the painful memory of a day in 2016 when he and a friend were using drugs and he overdosed — just minutes after showing that friend the package of Narcan someone had given him.

“I joked, ‘Put that way up my nose and when I fall out, push that button.’ And we laughed and we joked,” Burks said, choking up. “Ten minutes later, I was dead in the front yard. … Anybody can administer this Narcan. Anybody can save someone’s life.”

Burks said the fact that Narcan is free and accessible to the community is a sign that Minneapolis cares about whether someone’s mother, someone’s child, someone’s best friend has a better day.

“There’s almost no one who doesn’t know someone who has been dramatically impacted by opioids,” said Mayor Jacob Frey, who tested the vending machine and handed out the first box when it went live on Wednesday, just before the holiday. “It could be a sister, a brother, a father, a friend, but opioids — specifically fentanyl — are having a dramatic impact on our cities across the country, and Minneapolis is no exception.”

Minneapolis is home to 7% of Minnesota’s population but has accounted for 20% of its opioid-related deaths over the past five years, Frey said. Thirty-eight of those deaths occurred in the neighborhoods surrounding Fire Station 21.

The machine is stocked with more than 100 boxes of Narcan, which are refilled as needed. Precautions are in place to prevent anyone from trying to empty the entire machine in hopes of selling the medication themselves (Narcan costs as much as $50 a box at the pharmacy). If it helps, the city health department will consider placing similar machines in other neighborhoods.

Fire Station 21 is located at 3209 E. 38th St., just off Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis. Please look out for each other this holiday week.