Health

Opioid Epidemic Turns Librarians Into First Responders

| by Michael Allen
McPherson Square LibraryMcPherson Square Library

Librarians in Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco are reportedly being trained to be first responders in response to the nation's opioid epidemic.

Chera Kowalski, a librarian in Philadelphia, recently revived a heroin and methamphetamine overdose victim with a double dose of Narcan, notes CNN.

Sterling Davis, a security guard, told the cable channel: "She's not a paramedic. She's just a teen-adult librarian -- and saved six people since April. That's a lot for a librarian."

"I understand the things the kids are seeing ... It's not normal," Kowalski said. "It's unfortunately their normal."

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She explained how every second counts when treating an overdose with Narcan:

You're under a time limit. It's how fast can I do this ... I understand where [heroin users are] coming from and why they're doing it. I just keep faith and hope that one day they get the chance and the opportunity to get clean. A lot of things have to line up perfectly for people to enter recovery long-term.

Since 2015, there have also been overdoses in libraries in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Reading, Pennsylvania. In many cities, libraries have become shelters for those who are homeless, drug addicts and impoverished.

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Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, told CNN: "We have to figure out quickly the critical steps that people have to take so we can be partners in the solution of this problem."

Todaro said the association is creating a guide for "the role of the library in stepping in on this opiate addiction."

The library where Kowalski works is in the Kensington area of Philadelphia, which is a destination for "drug tourists" from around the country because of its reputation for heroin.

Judith Moore, a children's librarian and branch manager, said almost a half-dozen people have overdosed in the library's bathroom during the past 18 months.

Marion Parkinson, who oversees the Philadelphia library, said people now have to show identification to use the bathroom, which has a five-minute time limit that is monitored by paid staff.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said: "It is among the worst public health problems we've ever seen, and it's continuing to get worse. We have not seen the worst of it yet."

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has reportedly created a task force to deal with the city's opioid epidemic, and the city's health department created a "Don't Take the Risk" ad campaign to warn people about the addiction dangers of prescription drugs.

The Federal Drug Administration, which approves opioid prescription medications, also warns about addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also warns people of opioid addiction, notes on its website that 91 Americans die daily from an opioid (prescription or heroin) overdose.

The CDC says that of the 52,404 deaths from drug overdoses in 2015, a staggering 33,091 involved an opioid.

Sources: CNN, Food & Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2) / Photo Credit: Davidt8/Wikimedia Commons, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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