Call the librarian: Unlikely heroes of US opioid crisis


The antidote filled the man’s nostril.

The purple faded. Then This kind of came back. Kowalski’s heart raced.

“We only gave him one, along with he needs another!” she called to a security guard in McPherson Square Park, a tranquil patch of green in one of This kind of city’s roughest neighborhoods.

“He’s dying,” said a bystander, piling on as tension mounted around lunchtime one recent weekday.

“Where can be the ambulance?” a woman begged.


Kowalski dropped the second syringe along with put her palm on the man’s sternum.

Knead. Knead. Knead.


She switched to knuckles.

Knead. Knead. Knead.

Then a sound, like a breath. The heroin along with methamphetamine overdose that will had gripped the man’s body started out to succumb to Kowalski’s double hit of Narcan.

With help, the man, named Jay, sat up. Paramedics arrived with oxygen along with more meds.

Death, held at bay, again.

Kowalski headed back across the park, toward the century-old, cream-colored building where she works.

“She’s not a paramedic,” the guard, Sterling Davis, said later. “She’s just a teen-adult librarian — along with saved six people since April. that will’s a lot for a librarian.”

Libraries along which has a public health disaster

Long viewed as guardians of safe spaces for children, library staff members like Kowalski have begun taking on the role of first responder in drug overdoses. In at least three major cities — Philadelphia, Denver along with San Francisco — library employees currently know, or are set to learn, how to use the drug naloxone, usually known by its brand name Narcan, to help reverse overdoses.
Their training tracks with the disastrous national rise in opioid use along with an apparent uptick of overdoses in libraries, which often serve as daytime havens for homeless people along with hubs of services in impoverished communities.

within the past two years, libraries in Denver, San Francisco, suburban Chicago along with Reading, Pennsylvania have become the site of fatal overdoes.

A discarded heroin needle lays in McPherson Square Park, next to the library.

“We have to figure out quickly the critical steps that will people have to take so we can be partners within the solution of This kind of problem,” Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, told sy88pgw.

Though standards vary by community, the group can be crafting a guide for “the role of the library in stepping in on This kind of opiate addiction,” she said. This kind of will include how to recognize opioid use — short of seeing someone which has a needle — along with how to address This kind of.

McPherson Square Library, where Kowalski works, incorporates a wide, welcoming staircase punctuated by tall columns. This kind of sits within the Kensington community, where drugs along with poverty lace daily life.

Residents drop into the McPherson branch with questions about doctor visits along with legal matters. Children eat meals provided by library staff along with play with water rockets in a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts along with Mathematics program.

Kensington doesn’t host a civic institution, like a university, or a major company, said Casey O’Donnell, CEO of Impact Services, a Kensington community along with economic development nonprofit.

“within the absence of those things, the anchors become things like the library,” he said.

In recent months, so-called “drug tourists” — people who travel through as far as Detroit along with Wisconsin seeking heroin — started out showing up in Kensington, which boasts perhaps the purest heroin on the East Coast, library staff along with authorities said.

Heroin users camped out in McPherson Square Park along with shot up within the library’s bathroom, where nearly a half-dozen people overdosed over the past 18 months, said branch manager along with children’s librarian Judith Moore.

The problem got so bad that will the library was forced to close for three days last summer because needles clogged its sewer system, said Marion Parkinson, who oversees McPherson along with various other libraries in North Philadelphia.

McPherson Square Library sits on the edge of Philadephia's Kensington neighborhood, where drugs along with poverty lace daily life.

Since then, patrons have had to show ID to use the bathroom, she said. The library in October hired monitors to sit near the bathroom, record names on a log along with enforce a all 5-minute time limit.

Before the crackdown, library staff last spring discovered one man within the bathroom which has a needle in his arm, Moore recalled. He toppled over along with started out convulsing.v

“I heard his head hit the floor,” she said.

A city employee had left a dose of Narcan at the library. yet the staff didn’t know how to use This kind of. After that will, Parkinson set out to get them trained.

‘This kind of’s not normal’

At 33 years old, Kowalski wears oversized sweaters along with too-big glasses. She reads nonfiction about World War II along with zones out on Netflix. She settles into work mode by listening to pop music on her train ride to work.

She chose to work at the McPherson branch because she thought her own experience could help students who flock there after school.

Kowalski’s parents used to use heroin. They’ve been clean for more than 20 years. Her mother earned a college degree in her 50s; along with her father, a Vietnam veteran, worked steadily as a truck driver until retiring, she said.

yet before all that will, Kowalski lived within the turmoil of addiction. “I understand the things the kids are seeing. … This kind of’s not normal,” she said of her library charges. “This kind of’s unfortunately their normal.”

currently, when a drug user overdoses at or near the McPherson library branch, Kowalski takes a minute to “switch the headset” through librarian to medic, she said.

A notice on the bathroom door informs patrons of rules to use the bathroom at McPherson Square Library.

When she got word that will recent day that will Jay had collapsed within the grass, Kowalski reached into a circulation desk drawer along with pulled out a blue zipper pouch containing Narcan along with the plastic components required to deliver This kind of.

Dashing out of the library, she asked if anyone had called 911. Someone had.

The librarian got to Jay, crouched down, noticed his shallow breathing along with discoloration.

She tried to focus. Seconds ticked. Prepping Narcan takes four steps: unscrew the vial, put This kind of within the syringe, screw on the nasal mister, squeeze out the medicine.

“You’re under a time limit,” she recalled. “This kind of’s how fast can I do This kind of.”

Kowalski recognized Jay’s face through the neighborhood. As she walked away through him, she felt relief. He could live.

“I understand where they’re coming through along with why they’re doing This kind of,” she said of heroin users. “I just keep faith along with wish that will one day they get the chance along with the opportunity to get clean. A lot of things have to line up perfectly for people to enter recovery long-term.”

Back at the library, Kowalski tried to refocus. The phone rang. Just minutes earlier, she’d pulled Jay back through the edge. currently, she was helping a patron find the number for the US Treasury Department.

‘We want our libraries to be safe’

When a man overdosed in late February within the bathroom at Denver Central Library, security manager Bob Knowles rushed to his aid.

Just hours earlier, the branch had received its very first delivery of Narcan, which library workers sought after a fatal overdose earlier that will month at their branch.

Knowles, the inaugural hero of his team’s effort to stem the opioid scourge, lost a brother 40 years ago to an overdose.

“I wish somebody had had Narcan for him,” Knowles said.

Security staff, social workers along with peer navigators — former drug users who help current ones — all learned to administer the overdose-reversal drug. The fact that will This kind of got used the day the first shipment arrived confirmed “we were on the right path,” said Chris Henning, director of community relations for the Denver Central Library.

A woman opens an opioid overdose rescue kit in McPherson Square Park in Philadelphia.

The branch can be near Civic Center Park, a haven for homeless people along which has a market for street drugs. One recent morning, a self-described drug addict who prefers methamphetamine along with the synthetic drug “spice” camped out near the library.

Staff members at various other Denver library branches are currently also being trained to deliver the medicine, library officials said, adding that will they’ve gotten calls about their regimen through libraries in Seattle, modest Colorado mountain towns along with parts of Canada.

Meantime, a fatal overdose in February at a San Francisco library branch pushed officials there to forge ahead with Narcan training for security officers, social workers along with employees who help the homeless, said Michelle Jeffers, a library spokeswoman.

“We want our libraries to be safe for all visitors,” she said.

Crisis in Philadelphia

Drug overdoses nationwide more than tripled through 1999 to 2015. Opioid overdoses accounted for 63 percent of the 52,000 fatal cases in 2015 — or about 33,000 people, the Centers for Disease Control along with Prevention reported. Across the country, 91 Americans die every day through an opioid overdose.
Philadelphia last year saw about 900 fatal overdoses, up nearly 30% through 2015, municipal tallies show. Nearly half the deaths involved fentanyl, the powerful opioid that will killed Prince. This kind of year’s total could hit about 1,0 fatal overdoses, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Patrick Trainor said.

“This kind of can be among the worst public health problems we’ve ever seen, along with This kind of’s continuing to get worse,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley told sy88pgw. “We have not seen the worst of This kind of yet.”

Opioids attach themselves to the body’s natural opioid receptors, numbing pain along with slowing breathing. They can relieve severe pain — yet also can spur addiction. Almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014, according to the CDC.

Naloxone kicks opioids off the body’s receptors along with can restart regular breathing. Hailed as a miracle remedy, the drug can be squirted into the nose or injected into a muscle.

Harm-reduction groups along with needle exchanges started out distributing naloxone two decades ago, along with since then, more than 26,000 overdoses have been reversed, the CDC reports.
The drug has become a staple for police, fire along with medical professionals, who can buy This kind of for $37.50 per dose. Retail pharmacies sell This kind of over the counter. Coffee shop baristas have been trained to administer This kind of.

Philadelphia Fire along with EMS used Narcan last year about 4,0 times, mostly within the Kensington neighborhood, Capt. William Dixon said.

‘I might need to take a mental day’

Armed with Narcan, McPherson’s library employees keep an eye out for overdoses. When he spots one, Davis, the security guard, tries not to alert the children.

Kowalski’s first save within the park, back in April, happened when a young woman overdosed on a library bench after school. One dose of Narcan revived her: She got up along with walked away.

yet when Kowalski turned around, several kids — all library regulars — were standing on the steps watching.

“I got truly upset because I know what they were seeing,” she said.

Teddy Hackett, a volunteer at McPherson Square Library, checks a rose bush for discarded drug needles.

Weeks later, she revived a man who overdosed on fentanyl along with fell off a bench in front of the library. “I might need to take a mental day tomorrow,” she told Moore afterward.

yet then her library regulars arrived after school. She played games with them along with helped them on the computer.

By the end of the day, “I felt Great again,” Kowalski said. The next day, she was back at work.

within the square, once dubbed Needle Park, library volunteer Teddy Hackett uses a grabber to pick up needles within the grass, near benches along with within the rose bushes.

“that will’s my rose bush there,” he said one recent day. “I protect that will rose bush.”

Hackett, who beat drug addiction almost 20 years ago, said he once got mad when he saw a man shooting up on a bench in front of the library. Hackett chased him away, the needle still stuck in his arm.

“God’s got me doing This kind of for a reason,” he said, laughing. “For the little kids along with the animals.”

He reports his daily needle tallies to Kowalski. May set a record: 1,197 needles. The previous one, set last fall, was about 897.

Librarian Chera Kowalski keeps a calendar which has a daily tally of discarded drug needles found in nearby McPherson Square Park.
The increase might reflect the spike in drug use. This kind of also could mean a redevelopment surge within the city has pushed a long-lingering problem out of the shadows, said Elvis Rosado, the education along with outreach coordinator at Prevention Point, a local nonprofit that will trained Kowalski along with more than 25 colleagues to use Narcan.

“They’ve been here for years,” Rosado said of drug users. “This kind of’s just that will they’ve been in abandoned buildings.”

As evidence of addiction has spread, Philadelphia leaders have stepped up to counter This kind of. Mayor Jim Kenney formed a task force to tackle the opioid epidemic.
The city’s health department launched an ad campaign called “Don’t Take the Risk” to remind patients that will a drug isn’t completely safe just because a doctor prescribes This kind of. Officials mailed out more than 16,000 copies of the addiction warning.
In McPherson Square Park, clean-up projects, a brand new playground along with lights have enhanced the grounds. Police in mid-June increased patrols there along with plan to install a mobile command center, which will also offer social services.

‘Call Chera’

The day after Kowalski’s naloxone doses revived Jay, more drug users trickled into McPherson Square Park, where sirens whine like white noise. Nearby, a slender woman shot up heroin, then got up along with walked away.

Moments later, a former freight train operator who weeks earlier had overdosed twice in one day, sat down on his cardboard blanket along with overdosed again. He’d gotten hooked on prescription pills after a leg injury. A heroin user gave him Narcan that will she’d bought through another user for $2.

A heroin user shows off his tattoos in McPherson Square Park. "A lot of these people are Great people," he said of fellow users. "They're just stuck generating bad choices. If they could, if they were offered any help, they'd take This kind of. We are literally stuck."

An hour later, paramedics carried away a woman who’d overdosed while sitting on a bench, said Davis, the security guard.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to get one or two more people that will’s going to OD out here today,” he said.

An hour later, This kind of happened: A woman who’d earlier been hanging out with the train operator slumped over on the ground.

Davis didn’t flinch. Standing at the library door, he told the needle collector to find Kowalski.

“Ted,” he yelled, “call Chera!”

sy88pgw’s Sara Weisfeldt reported through Denver.

Call the librarian: Unlikely heroes of US opioid crisis

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