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Librarians and Naloxone: A Primer

There’s been a lot of conversation about naloxone in libraries recently: whether or not librarians should administer naloxone to patrons or colleagues who have potentially overdosed, the changing role of librarians, how libraries can address the opioid crisis and support patrons with substance use disorders, or should we. I’ve been invigorated by the complex and challenging conversations librarians are having with one another about these issues - but I also feel concerned about some misinformation about naloxone and ableist beliefs some of us may hold about patrons who use drugs and/or experience addiction. 

If you’re new to this conversation, naloxone (also known by its brand name, Narcan) is an opioid antagonist used for the complete or partial reversal of an opioid overdose. Basically, it can save the life of a person who has overdosed on opioids and/or keep them alive until paramedics can get there. According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, naloxone has been used to save over 27,000 lives so far - and that’s only the reported cases. Naloxone is harmless; if the person it’s been administered to isn’t experiencing an overdose, nothing will happen. Nothing. It’s so safe that it’s been used on drug-sniffing dogs who have been exposed to fentanyl. Many folks are concerned about the ease of administering naloxone, as it used to be solely available as an injectable. However, the injectable form is now being phased out in many places, being replaced by a nasal mist form, which is akin to taking allergy medication. It’s very easy to give someone and very hard to mess up. You can take an online Bystander Intervention Training to learn more, especially if your library or community doesn’t offer trainings yet.

It’s important that librarians, like everyone else in our communities, know how to administer naloxone and carry it with them. Not all EMTs and cops carry naloxone, sometimes due to ableist beliefs about the lives of substance users. The reality is anyone can overdose - an older person who has misread the label on their pain medications, a colleague struggling with addiction, or chronic pain patients. Regardless of who we’re talking about, their life inherently matters and is absolutely worth saving. Five years ago, I was given another chance when my own life was saved with naloxone. My point is, you never know who is at risk or whose life you are saving.

Many harm reduction programs distribute naloxone free of charge and offer other resources to help address the opioid crisis through impactful, compassionate, and community-based programming, such as the Harm Reduction Coalition, Get Naloxone Now, HIPS, and Naloxone for All. Reach out to local harm reduction organizations in your community and work on building a partnership with them. Together, you can make an impact on the lives of your patrons.

Does your library offer naloxone administration training or other resources? What are you doing to support the folks in your communities who may be experiencing a substance use disorder?

Further Reading and Resources