Heroin Epidemic Checks Into America's Libraries

Quiet public spaces prove attractive for addicts, see spike in overdoses
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 11, 2016 7:51 AM CDT
Heroin Epidemic Checks Into America's Libraries
This 2014 file photo shows Director of the Ann Arbor District Library, Josie Parker. Librarians are finding themselves face-to-face with the heroin and opiod epidemic as drug users take advantage of the free access to quiet areas where people often keep to themselves.   (Katie McLean)

The same qualities that make libraries ideal for studying and reading—unfettered public access, quiet corners and nooks, minimal interaction with other people—also make them appealing places to shoot up heroin, reports the AP in a look at the trend. In Norfolk, Va., a 47-year-old man died after a patron found him in a library restroom. In Batesville, Ind., and New Brunswick, NJ, police revived others in library restrooms using a popular antidote. The body of a homeless man who frequented a suburban Chicago library might have been there for days, fully clothed and slumped on the toilet on the quiet third floor. The empty syringe and lighter in his pockets and cut soda can in the trash pointed to a heroin overdose. "We were all very shocked and of course worried about how this could happen in our spaces," says the library's executive director. The inherent attributes of public libraries leave them especially exposed. They're free and open for whoever walks in, and lingering is welcome, no transaction or interaction required.

"This is happening everywhere and that public libraries haven't done anything wrong to cause it," said Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan. Her library already had removed bathroom ceilings and toilet tanks where people could hide drugs and restroom entrances that could be locked. Police routinely walk through the library, and social workers set up shop there, checking in with folks. All that, Parker said, strips away anonymity. "Anonymity allows people to do things they wouldn't do otherwise in public places," she said, "and if you can take away anonymity, you can help change behavior." Boston's libraries have needle drop boxes and have offered overdose prevention training for employees and residents. At the Humboldt County Library in Eureka, Calif., a librarian realized a man apparently sleeping in a chair was actually unresponsive, and injected Narcan into his leg. "I felt grateful that we had this Narcan on hand and that we were able to save his life, but it was kind of surreal," she says. (Read more heroin stories.)

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