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Libraries find themselves on the front lines of Michigan’s opioid crisis

narcan kit
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Kalamazoo Public Library is training staff across its five branches on how to respond to potential opioid overdoses, including adminstering the life-saving treatment Narcan.

The opioid epidemic reaches every corner of life in our state.

That includes libraries, where administrators and staff are figuring out the best response if a patron appears to be under the influence of drugs, or potentially experiencing an opioid overdose.

Kevin King, head of branch and circulation services at the Kalamazoo Public Library, and Gail Madziar, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, joined Stateside’s Cynthia Canty to share how public libraries across the state are responding to this crisis.

Madziar noted that libraries across the country, from Philadelphia to Denver, libraries in Michigan have also been sites of increased opioid overdoses in recent years.

While law enforcement has typically been the first to respond to such health crises, many libraries are now training staff and equippinig branches with Narcan kits. That's the FDA-approved nasal spray for the emergency treatment of a suspected opioid overdose.

King said the Kalamazoo Public Library has decided to take a proactive approach to the problem. Their efforts focus on educating staff on detecting drug use, training staff how to respond to overdoses, and strengthening community partnerships. King also works with the Kalamazoo County Opioid Coalition to determine ways that the public library can be an advocate for county stakeholders working to combat the crisis.  

Now that library staff have been trained in best practices, King is turning to people who have experienced opioid use to expand its outreach.

In partnership with the Recovery Institute of Southwest Michigan, KPL will soon become the fourth library in the country to introduce the Peer Navigator Program. The goal is to bring individuals into the library to help staff provide direct healthcare, housing, and education services to patrons in need.

For all of the conversation around responding to patrons’ overdoses, there is a serious liability concern for library staff administering opioid antagonists such as Narcan.

Earlier this year, Republican State Sens. Rick Jones and Margaret O’Brien introduced legislation to allow libraries to purchase, possess, distribute and dispense opioid antagonists without the threat of criminalization. The House Health Policy Committee is working to expand these bills to include protections for citizens responding to opioid overdoses in any public area such as bus stations and parks.  

While Michigan libraries await the final vote on these bills, Kevin King urged staff “in the smallest towns and the largest cities” to develop new internal procedures, establish local partners, and train staff on how to ensure the health and safety of all library patrons.

Listen above for the full conversation with Kevin King, head of branch and circulation services at the Kalamazoo Public Library, and Gail Madziar, executive director of the Michigan Library Association.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Gabrielle Horton.

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