Public libraries aren’t merely book repositories; they also provide access to information and resources for the entire community. And in some neighborhoods, librarians are training themselves to revive heroin users who have overdosed.
As we’ve discussed before, it’s a boom time for heroin in the U.S. The drug is frequently less expensive and more potent — sometimes lethally so — than prescription opioids.
These powerful strains of heroin also mean more overdoses and related deaths. And since users can’t always inject heroin in the privacy of home or in the safety of a clinic, some members of the public have learned how to treat the overdoses they encounter on a too-frequent basis.
Librarians at the McPherson Square Branch library in the Kensington neighborhood of Philly, for example, have been learning how to administer overdose antidote Narcan, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Though the branch’s manager has worked for almost 30 years at the library, she says she remembers only one overdose there until this year, when they’ve had to save people from overdosing four times in the building.
McPherson Square — the Philly public park of which the library is the centerpiece — is known as “Needle Park” to some of the locals.
When the Inquirer reporter visited McPherson for this story, he encountered a young woman who had just overdosed outside the library. A librarian who has administered Narcan in the past rushed to help while the reporter called 9-1-1.
Things have gotten so bad, management has taken steps like instituting overdose drills for staff, and posting a bathroom monitor and rules designed to keep drug tourists from using the facilities to get high: Adults have to leave a library card at the front desk, and bathroom use is limited to three to five minutes, before a guard will knock.
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Of particular concern are the many children who use the library’s resources and computers. One volunteer who searches the grass for needles tells the Inquirer he finds twice the amount of needles he used to a few years ago — even some on the jungle gym in the park nearby.
Others in the library system are joining McPherson in learning how to administer Narcan, including the supervisor of about six libraries in the city who spearheaded a Narcan training session in March attended by more than two dozen librarians, including some from McPherson.
“They had been wanting the training for a long time,” the supervisor said of those librarians. “It’s a very, very helpless feeling when someone is gasping for breath and you can’t do anything. At least now they can know they tried.”
It’s not just libraries, of course: Public restrooms and hospital bathrooms have also become a safe haven for drug users, NPR noted earlier this month.
The owner of one coffee shop has had to remodel his bathrooms to make them safer, after customers kept using it as a place to get high: He installed a metal box in the wall next to the toilet for needles and other paraphernalia that could clog pipes, and removed the dropped ceilings after he found things hidden above the tiles.
“It’s very scary,” he told NPR. “In an ideal world, users would have safe places to go [where] it didn’t become the job of a business to manage that and to look after them and make sure that they were OK.”