Libraries: The Hottest Place to Shoot Up

Emergency crews are responding to more overdoses between the stacks

You don’t usually worry if your kid spends a lot of time at the library — but maybe you should. Forget about studying or reading: Drug users now find it’s the perfect place to get their latest fix.

Employees at one library in Worcester, Massachusetts, see three to five near-overdoses each week. This comes after 20 people overdosed at the library in 2014.

Libraries in Cincinnati will likely see up to 18 overdoses this year alone.

Libraries in Cincinnati, Ohio, have similar numbers. Law enforcement says there have been as many heroin overdoses at the downtown library this year as the last two years combined. If the trend continues, the library will likely see up to 18 overdoses this year alone.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, children discovered a man and a woman passed out in a corner of the Osterhout library during a Saturday event last May; they had overdosed on heroin. The county in Pennsylvania is a leader is overdose deaths, mostly from opioids.

Library systems are responding by training their employees in overdose response and equipping them with naloxone, a quick-injector drug that reverses the respiratory depression of an opioid overdose. Other library systems are tightening security protocols and asking police to help patrol the halls.

But where do they go from there — and how much can they really do? Public buildings often serve as shelters for homeless individuals, and the drug and alcohol abuse among the homeless ranges from 26 percent to 38 percent. If the trend continues, children and teenagers are not only at risk for witnessing disturbing behavior, they’re also coming one step closer to accessing dangerous drugs, themselves.

Visitors are welcome to stay at the library for long hours, they don’t have to interact much with others — and no purchase is required. There are plenty of quiet nooks and spaces. And there are usually enough bathroom stalls to provide some privacy for someone wanting to use heroin or another street drug.

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One library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, actually removed the bathroom ceilings and toilet tanks where people were storing drugs. The library also invited social workers to set up an office on site, providing counsel and help for drug addicts. In Ohio, peace officers from Toledo’s library system are being trained to help the sheriff’s Drug Abuse Response Team, according to the Associated Press. Boston’s libraries have needle drop boxes and have offered overdose prevention training for employees and residents.

Related: Cannabis is a Dead End

City Manager of Worcester Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the library and other public buildings should be open and inviting to all people. “Unfortunately, this ease of access also makes public facilities vulnerable to some illegal and dangerous activity,” he said in a media release.

Parents should certainly talk to their kids before dropping them off or leaving them alone for long, and should talk with the library staff as well, to understand the risk.

“People need to know this is happening everywhere and that public libraries haven’t done anything wrong,” Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan, told the AP.

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