How one Vermont library is tackling the opioid crisis

Published: Jun. 13, 2019 at 5:51 PM EDT
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A Vermont library is taking a new step to protect its patrons by stocking the drug Narcan.

The Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury teamed up with Turning Point to teach library employees how and when to use the opiate-reversal drug.

Our Christina Guessferd spoke with the librarians to learn how they feel about being on the frontlines of the drug crisis.

Employees say loving people is just a part of being a librarian; so is helping and welcoming anyone who walks through the doors. Now, they say in the face of the opioid epidemic, stocking Narcan is just a part of that duty.

"It's like the fire extinguisher. You have it, you make sure it's up to date and you know how to use it if the situation arises," said Dana Hart, the director of the Ilsley Public Library. "The library has always been this sort of classic third place. I mean it's not home and it's not work, but it's a place that many people find themselves. We're really a community center here in Middlebury."

Hart says a library is a safe space for people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and addiction. That's why she's decided to arm her employees with a life-saving tool.

"It seemed like a good idea for us to be as prepared as possible," Hart said.

Prepared for an opioid overdose. Hart says though the Ilsley Public Library has never seen one, she knows an increasing number of people are seeking out sanctuaries like libraries to sneak into private spots, like a bathroom, and take drugs.

"This is where a lot of people who might be in need would be," said Judy Holler, who has worked at the library for 18 years.

Holler took the voluntary training in April.

"It's empowering," she said. "It was so easy it was ridiculous. It's just, you know, a spray. Just put it in the nose."

Only a few libraries in Vermont stock the opiate-reversal drug, but Narcan is usually found in urban libraries in other states.

"The more places they start stocking it, the more lives will be saved. It's just that simple," Alex Spencer said.

As a frequent library patron at his Philadelphia home, Spencer says Vermont should take the same precautions statewide.

"I think it would be great to have it in every library in everywhere possible," Spencer said.

"It really just feels like, why not take this small step to be extra prepared and potentially be able to save a life," Hart said.

The Vermont Department of Libraries doesn't keep an official count of how many libraries in the state stock Narcan, because it's decided on an individualized and community basis like it was at the Ilsley Library. But officials do encourage more libraries to learn about Narcan and to see if it makes sense for them to stock it in their facility.