Librarians drawn into US opioid epidemic

The US opioid epidemic has become so bad that librarians are being shown how to recognise symptoms and treat overdoses when they occur.

In Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, library employees are receiving training on how to use Naloxone – a drug used to reverse an overdose.

Libraries have seen increasing fatalities as a rise in overdoses on-site correspond to a national rise in opioid use.


Chera Kowalski, a 33-year-old librarian working at the McPherson Square Library in Philadelphia, has saved many lives in just the past few months.

After witnessing Kowalski administer naloxone and perform CPR on an unconscious drug user, a security guard said: “She’s not a paramedic”.

“She’s just a teen-adult librarian – and saved six people since April.”

‘Not normal’

Kowalski joined the library to help young people in the community, and tries to prevent them from being exposed to the reality of drug use.

Speaking from experience – her own parents used heroin during her childhood – she said: “I understand the things the kids are seeing”, adding “it’s not normal”.

According to a CNN report, drug overdoses tripled between 1999 and 2015 in the US, and in 2015 alone opioid overdoses accounted for more than 32,000 deaths.

Drug tourists

In recent months, Kensington, Philadelphia, where McPherson Square branch is located, has become a hotspot for ‘drug tourists’, some of whom travel over 900 miles for extremely ‘pure’ heroin.

In response to the sharp rise in overdoses, 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”.

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