CHICAGO, Ill. For the last few years, libraries have begun leveraging their resources in the fight against the deadly opioid crisis, providing critically needed information, and services. And while it’s too early to measure the impact they are having, libraries are playing an increasingly active role in prevention and recovery efforts.
Every day, 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose.
It’s an epidemic that Public Library Association Deputy Director Larra Clark says has placed libraries and their staff on the frontlines.
“If there is an issue that's playing out in this country libraries are almost certainly part of that story,” said Clark.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017, almost 400,000 people died from an overdose involving an opioid, including prescription and illicit drugs.
Three overdoses inside the Peoria Public Library in central Illinois in less than a year forced administrators there to act.
Deputy director of the Peoria Public Library Roberta Koscielski says on one occasion, a man in the midst of an overdose came up to a librarian in the middle of the day.
“He collapsed right in front of her at the desk. So, she called the security card called emergency responders and he was revived with Narcan,” said Koscielski.
About 80 staff members at all five of their branches are now trained on how to administer the life-saving overdose antidote Narcan or naloxone.
“This role of library as an intermediary intervener supporter is not new but I think this crisis is new and we have to help the people who are coming in our doors” said Clark.
The nonprofit Online Computer Library Center released a report this past fall detailing some of the ways libraries are playing a larger part in battling the national opioid crisis.
At the top of that list, says Clark, is education.
“How can we translate that into better services and support for people for individuals who may be addicted or for their families and their communities?”
7,000 pill bottles representing the number of opioid prescriptions filled each day in Utah hung from the ceiling at the Salt Lake County Library as part of a marketing campaign titled “Use Only as Directed” meant to represent the magnitude of the crisis.
Many libraries are stocking books like Sam Quinones’s Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
“I had no idea when I read it just about the size of the problem and that people can work a job and be very addicted to a substance,” said Koscielski.
With the threat from opioids in the form of pills, heroin and fentanyl not going away, Clark says many libraries are helping to search for answers and provide them to those who need them most.
“One of the things that we heard from people is do something, right? There's not one right answer to this. It is not going to be libraries alone. It is not going to be any of these other agencies by themselves. This issue is too big.”