Some Public Libraries Are Becoming Popular Locations For Drug Use

By McCarton Ackerman 09/13/16

Librarians are encouraged to get training on how to "interact with special populations" such as drug users and the homeless.

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Some Public Libraries Are Becoming Popular Locations For Drug Use

Heroin use is often associated with dark alleys or private settings, but the quiet surroundings of a library are surprisingly making it a popular spot for people to shoot up.

The Associated Press reported that recent instances have seen local police in Indiana and New Jersey revive heroin users in library restrooms with Narcan, the overdose antidote. In Norfolk, Virginia, and Oak Park, Illinois, dead bodies were found in public library bathrooms from heroin overdoses.

Some libraries have even begun to offer overdose prevention training to employees and anyone in the community who is interested.

“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,” said Kitty Yancheff, a librarian in Eureka, California, who used Narcan to revive a man suffering from an overdose. 

But perhaps surprisingly, the head of the country's largest library organization has suggested that librarians shouldn’t attempt to be heroes when it comes to drug use. Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, said she advises employees to go to security or emergency personnel in the event of an overdose.

“Clearly when you have the epidemic that we have and the issues with the patrons that we have, we need to organize assistance," she said. "That doesn't mean we ourselves provide it."

Because libraries are free and open to the public, many of these facilities struggle to identify when someone intending to use walks in. This is further magnified by the fact that no interactions or transactions are required when someone goes inside.

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

Although these facilities may not cause heroin use, Parker believes they can take measures to stop it. Her library made changes over a decade ago to halt cocaine-related activity, including removing toilet tanks and bathroom ceilings where drugs can be stashed, and getting rid of potentially lockable restroom entrances.

“Anonymity allows people to do things they wouldn’t do otherwise in public places,” explained Parker. “If you can take away anonymity, you can help change behavior.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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