Picking Up the Pieces on Opioids | Editorial

Libraries across the country are creating a range of programs to support those impacted by substance abuse.

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.

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Rebecca T. Miller Editor-in-Chief rmiller@mediasourceinc.com

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