By the books: How libraries are dealing with the opioid crisis

BOSTON -- Like most public spaces, libraries across Massachusetts are coping with the opioid crisis. Many are pro-actively training staff to use Narcan and how to respond when someone overdoses.

Open records requests submitted by Boston 25 News revealed nearly three dozen overdoses in public libraries in 2017.

According to police and health department reports:

  • EMS responded to 25 "narcotic related illnesses" at Boston Public Libraries
  • Two overdoses were reported in the Worcester Public Library at 3 Salem Square
  • Two overdoses were reported in Quincy's Thomas Crane Public Library at 40 Washington Street
  • Two overdoses were reported in Cambridge's Central Square Library at 45 Pearl Street
  • One overdose was reported at Revere's Public Library at 179 Beach Street


Three months ago, a Worcester librarian helped save a life.

"It's an extreme emergency. We need an ambulance. Somebody is down on the floor," the caller told a 911 dispatcher.

The man, around 28 years old, was found Dec. 9 in the public bathroom inside Worcester's main library branch on Salem Square.

"Okay, is he awake?" the dispatcher asked.

"No, no, he's not coming through. They administered Narcan," the caller said.

According to a police report, the staffer helped administer eight milligrams of the life-saving nasal spray before paramedics arrived.

He survived.

The Worcester Division of Public Health trained librarians on how to use Narcan less than six months before.

"You can't really control it,'' Brian Larkin said. Larkin is homeless and has battled opioid addiction for almost twenty years. He says Boston's main library branch on Boylston Street is a popular place to get high.

"If somebody goes to meet their [dealer] around the corner, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the library. That’s where I’m going.’ You’re not going to stop them," Larkin said.

Library systems in Boston, Worcester and Lynn encourage staff to carry Narcan. Officials in Peabody and Methuen said they're discussing it.

“It is a challenge in most of our libraries because it is so widespread," Methuen Library Director Krista McLeod said.

But the stigma from the opioid crisis lingers. Several library directors declined to be interviewed or quoted for this report. Some said they didn't want to bring negative attention to their branches.

"Libraries aren’t immune to what’s happening in their communities—they’re a part of their community--so anything that is affecting the community will be felt at the library as well," Celeste Bruno, communications director with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, said in an email to Boston 25 News. "Librarians are working with community leaders to support efforts to stem the tide of this crisis."

McLeod wants her librarians trained to use Narcan by the end of 2018.

"We've seen an uptick definitely in patrons that we are concerned about," McLeod said. "We could save somebody's life."

There is also an effort to contain dirty needles. Lowell's library director said there is a policy in place for when staffers discover a syringe. Library patrons in Worcester and Boston will find needle disposal bins on the walls inside the restrooms.

“Boston Public Library has worked closely with our colleagues at the Boston Public Health Commission and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services to take precautions to prevent members of our community from using illegal substances and fatally overdosing in libraries," Boston Public Library Director of Operations Eamon Shelton wrote in a statement.

"Our goal with these efforts is ... ensuring our spaces remain safe and usable by all,” Shelton said.

Larkin, father of a 4-year-old boy, shook his head when asked about addicts using the library to get high.

"It's a place to learn, not a place to degrade yourself," he said.

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