Even in the digital era, libraries are high-traffic zones, hosting more than 1.5 billion visits annually. On any given day in Philadelphia, the Free Library welcomes a stream of visitors, who arrive early in the morning to use the computers, congregate after school for homework help, and join a rich range of programs, from story time, to job fairs, to classes for English language learners at the Culinary Literacy Center. Here and across the country, public libraries offer vitally important free and public spaces in our communities—advancing education, literacy, social connection, and wellbeing.
Libraries are also unlikely heroes in addressing the opioid epidemic, whether or not they intend to be. In Pennsylvania, 12 percent of the state’s public libraries experienced a drug overdose on-site in the past year, according to arecent study from our team at the University of Pennsylvania. Those numbers may continue to rise. Philadelphia recorded 1,200 overdose deaths in 2017—nearly twice the number from just three years prior. Across Pennsylvania, thedrug overdose death rate more than doubled between 2010 and 2016, earning the state a hideous distinction as a leader in drug-related mortality.
For some libraries, responding to overdoses has become a routine occurrence. Our team interviewed dozens of library staff during the Public Library Association annual meeting, held in Philadelphia this past March, to hear their concerns regarding the opioid crisis. We encountered librarians who were at turns angered, perplexed, saddened, and overwhelmed by the challenges of widespread opioid use and overdose in their communities. A small-town librarian from New Hampshire told us, with a dispirited sigh, that she had called the fire department three times in just the past week to respond to suspected drug overdoses.
[For more on this story by Carolyn C. Cannuscio, Roxanne Dupuis & Eliza D. Whiteman, go to http://www.philly.com/philly/h...eality-20180525.html]