PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – These days, libraries are more than just a place you can check out a book or surf the web. Now, libraries are taking on a whole different set of responsibilities, trying to save lives.
The Multnomah County Library system launched a pilot program in the summer of 2018 to get naloxone, an opioid-reversing treatment, in all of its branches and to train its employees on how to administer the medication.
Library leaders say this decision is about taking care of the community.
Through the voice of one woman FOX 12 spoke with who’s administered naloxone more than a dozen times, she’s demonstrating just how crucial it is to have the medication just about everywhere.
In a split second in December 2018, it was a call to action for Haven Wheelock.
“I was working at my desk and someone came running in pounding on my window, yelling ‘Haven we need naloxone let’s go,’” Wheelock said.
Wheelock says she grabbed naloxone and ran two blocks to a highway overpass. There she found a person unconscious and not breathing.
“Your adrenaline goes and you’re shaking and you’re trying to make sure everything’s happening at the same time,” Wheelock said. “You administer this medication really within moments people start to, like, change and their color starts to come back, and they start talking to you it’s – I don’t want to say it’s beautiful, but it’s a huge sigh of relief.”
Wheelock works for social services organization Outside In in Portland.
She says she’s administered naloxone 17 times and she says every person survived their overdose.
In the height of the opioid epidemic, these dire situations are now happening in the most unlikely places, including libraries.
“Folks coming in asking us as librarians to help them with all kinds of problems that we weren’t necessarily fully equipped for,” Multnomah County Library Neighborhood Libraries Director Dave Ratliff said.
Ratliff says that’s what spurred the Multnomah County Library system to train its employees to administer naloxone.
“This is what naloxone looks like, it’s literally just a nasal spray. We tilt the person’s head back, give them a few rescue breaths through a mask with a one-way valve,” Ratliff said. “Tilt the head back spray the naloxone up the nostril, give a few more rescue breaths,” he said showing FOX 12 how the medication works when administering it to someone.
FOX 12 spoke with Multnomah County Library Information Services Administrator, Traci Glass.
Glass is one of those workers who is now taking life-saving measures into her own hands.
She says she feels empowered now that she’s trained to administer naloxone.
“I do yes. Saving people’s lives in the library is, it makes me feel great because I love working with our patrons and I wouldn’t want anything ever to happen to them in the library,” Glass said.
Glass has been doing library work for 20 years. She says it’s a lot different now.
“When I first started it was really just kind of basic, people coming in for books, looking for book recommendations, we didn’t even at that time have a lot internet computers. And I’ve seen it blossom into a community organization,” Glass said. “We build relationships with people, we speak with people, we know when someone’s not doing well because we see them day after day.”
It’s a new chapter for library workers who now have more responsibilities outside of the shelves, during a time where drug overdose numbers still remain high in the Portland-metro area.
According to Multnomah County Health Officer Paul Lewis, the Portland-metro area has more than 200 opioid overdose deaths per year.
In 2013, legislation passed making the medication available and the health department reports more than 4000 overdose reversals using naloxone.
Lewis says the number of opioid overdose deaths peaked in the Portland-metro area and across the state in 2011.
Since then, Lewis says overdose death numbers remain flat, and it’s a complex problem.
“Opiates get a lot of attention and they certainly are the biggest killer. We see a lot of deaths that involve more than one drug and especially deaths that include methamphetamine,” Lewis said.
Lewis says it’s great to have naloxone as a resource, but it won’t solve the drug problem.
“I think it’s a critical component, it’s not the answer all by itself,” Lewis said.
Wheelock who’s been on the front lines agrees and says because the problem’s so widespread, it makes sense for libraries to help tackle this problem.
“Librarians didn’t go into this work to be social workers, they didn’t go into this work to be responding to emergencies but they are doing it. And if that is the case and if that’s the system that we’re operating in right now then I want them to have all the tools that they can have and all the knowledge that they can have to as equipped as you can be to respond in situation,” Wheelock said. “We can’t let people just die while we’re waiting for the big overarching changes to happen.”
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