May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picking Up the Pieces on Opioids | Editorial

Librarians in Philadelphia and Denver hit ­major media this summer as news broke of how they were intervening to help save the lives of people overdosing on opioids. For those unfamiliar with just how active librarians can be in caregiving for their communities, it was surprising, if not shocking, to consider such hands-on and heroic action. Talk about redefining the understanding of the library’s critical role in a community crisis.

For those of us more attuned to the ongoing work of libraries, it was, while still heroic, a startling indicator of just how much libraries are doing to address the many needs of their patrons, and how quickly they are evolving to be a resource for those impacted.

The scale of this epidemic is massive, and ­coping with it is complex. It is also claiming younger and younger victims, as the New York Times reported. Information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks and helps articulate the crisis, and is worth exploring more to get a better ­understanding of the problem from a data ­perspective. In the United States, some 91 people are estimated to die each day from an ­opioid overdose—this is based on 2015 numbers and ­includes incidents involving prescription drugs and heroin. Also every day, more than 1,000 people go to an emergency room for treatment for misuse of ­prescription opioids (see graph). These numbers just hint at the human cost to those addicted, along with the damage to extended family and children around them. Those who work in libraries and with kids in school settings are seeing the whole picture—and the heartbreaking human impact.

Back in July, Denver Public Library’s Rachel Fewell, central library administrator, talked with SLJ about how her library was responding to the opioid epidemic, managing the PR crisis (and teachable ­moment) that media coverage can bring, and how the library itself is evolving along the way. As this month’s cover story, “­Everyone’s Problem”, illustrates, her team sits among the many professionals confronted by the epidemic and striving to help address the problem head-on in their schools and libraries.

Librarians across the country are responding, despite challenges, found reporters Linda Jacobson and Megan Cottrell. They are taking direct intervention steps, training staff, and utilizing Narcan when someone’s life is at risk, and they are helping support those impacted by the addiction of a loved one. Using a holistic approach, they are creating community awareness through forums, adopting social emotional teaching strategies to foster resilience and empathy, and connecting people to resources to help bring relief.

They are doing what libraries do. In the process, they are innovating, building partnerships, and leading with compassion.


Rebecca T. Miller

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller ( is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind