The Opioid Epidemic: Your Library Can Help

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that, “Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic. More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record, and the majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involved an opioid.” Concerned about this tragedy and interested to identify ways that libraries can help alleviate the opioid epidemic, I reached out to Fred Newton, President & CEO of Hope House Addiction Services in Boston,  who served on Governor Baker’s Opioid Working Group to inquire about his views on how we can help.  Thank you to Fred for taking the time to share his personal thoughts and insights.

Fred Newton, President & CEO, Hope House

Michelle Eberle (ME): How can librarians help alleviate the opioid crisis in Massachusetts?  

Fred Newton (FN): Librarians should become trained in the administration of Narcan. Narcan™ (naloxone) is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. It may seem unlikely that a person would overdose in a library, but any place with public rest rooms may see an increased risk.  Staff should be trained and carry Narcan always!

Librarians should become familiar with the State Without Stigma” and “Good Samaritan Law campaigns, to educate others that substance use disorders are a medical disease that need intervention and not morality or shame!  The Good Samaritan Law provides safety for people who report suspected drug activity.

Librarians should collaborate with local elementary and secondary schools to coordinate the educational needs of their community’s response to the opioid epidemic. In part, emphasizing the imperative to avoid discarded used syringes because of the potential lethality. Calling local municipal public works and public health departments about the discarded syringes is critical. In Boston call 311.

Librarians should to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of opioid use when people (family and friends) are seeking this information regarding a loved one. In part, those signs and symptoms may include: noticeable elation/ euphoria, marked sedation/drowsiness, confusion, constricted (“pinned”) pupils, slowed breathing, intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness.

Lastly, librarians should become aware of and conversant in Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), including Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs), which combine behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders. Examples of MAT include, methadone maintenance and Suboxone (combination of buprenorphine/naloxone).

(ME) What key recommendations in the action plan are most relevant for librarians?

(FN) Narcan has saved more lives than any other intervention!

Substance Use Disorders, including Opioid Use Disorders are a medical condition. Diagnostic criteria for these and other “disorders may be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM5),

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) can save lives

Each community has its own special needs and considerations. Librarians must be in tune with what they are.  Many communities have groups with titles like “(town) drug and alcohol coalition,” which include representatives from police, fire and ambulance services, city or town delegate, public health nurse, school official, concerned citizens and others.

Poster from Mass Health Promotion Clearinghouse

Poster from Mass Health Promotion Clearinghouse

Make sure there are appropriate flyers and posters on display to stop the stigma, and offer information and help for people who are dealing with the crisis.  Flyers and posters in discreet areas are helpful to those who can’t ask for help, publicly.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an information helpline at 1-800-327-5050 or

(ME) What type of community programs would you like to see public libraries and school libraries offer that would help alleviate the opioid epidemic?

(FN) Host expert educational talks on different aspects of substance use disorders, e.g., “The progression of the disease”.  Many people think that it is just a phase that the person is going through, or take the attitude of “s/he is only drinking alcohol all kids do that”.  Another topic is the effects of a substance use disorder on the family members.  How do other families act or react?  Inviting a person in the community to publicly talk of their substance use disorder and recovery can be very powerful. Host family support groups, like “Learn to Cope” or “Alanon.”

Providing any kind of positive alternatives to alcohol and drug use, gang involvement, etc. is critical.
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Nahant Public Library STOP LYME Project

Ick! It's a tick!

Ick! It’s a tick!

Thank you to Sharon Hawkes, Director of the Nahant Public Library, and Margot Malachowski, Education & Outreach Coordinator at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine for sharing their experience with the STOP LYME project, a multi-faceted public health partnership.

Tell us about your community partnership.

Sharon Hawkes (Nahant Public Library Director):  The STOP LYME project was both a local and statewide partnership to do two things: deliver good information about tick-borne disease to our patrons and to show that libraries can scale up to help deliver state information to the public. The state legislature had recently voted favorably on a Lyme insurance bill and they were concerned that constituents understand the new law. So we thought this might be the right topic at the right time. Plus, tick-borne disease is a serious problem in Massachusetts! So we created 4 resources to fulfill the goal of providing information in multiple formats:

  • The STOP LYME Handbook, a binder of state and other reference material for libraries. It was delivered to them using Optima, and was uploaded to the BiblioBoard ebook platform.
  • Six ebooks on various aspects of tick-borne diseases, purchased through MLS for Axis 360.
  • The “Ick, a Tick!” forum, with speakers Catherine Brown (Mass DPH), Dr. Samuel Donta (Infectious Diseases Society of America), Margot Malachowski (NN/LM), and Lawrence Dapsis (Cape Cod Co-op Extension). The forum was videotaped by local cable television and is archived on YouTube.
  • An online database website, the Lymebrary.

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Athol Public Library “Book it to the Woods” Collaboration

We are living in an increasingly critical time to nurture our future generation’s love of nature and create an urgency for families to support efforts to protect our natural world.  The Athol Public Library’s “Book it to the Woods” partnership is an outstanding example of a public library fostering children’s and families’ respect for the earth and enjoyment of nature through collaboration with a conservation trust and a family center. Thank you to Angela Dumas, Children’s Librarian at the Athol Public Library, for sharing her experience with this successful community engagement project!

Oral storytelling with Angela Dumas

Oral storytelling with Angela Dumas

Tell us about your community partnership.

The Athol Public Library, in partnership with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and Valuing Our Children (VOC) of Athol, presented “Book it to the Woods”.  Mount Grace set up a campsite in the library’s program room and different activities for children – for toddlers to twelve-year-olds – took place during the day.  Activities included fairy house making, oral and traditional storytelling, crafts, s’mores, movement, songs, an outdoor story walk, and imaginative play. Continue reading

Wilmington Public Library Young Child Art Show

According to the Harvard Family Research Project’s report, Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement, “Libraries are poised and ready to be the heart of family engagement in a community.” The Wilmington Public Library’s Week of the Young Child Art Show is a superb example of a public library increasing family engagement. Thank you to Tina Stewart, Library Director, of the Wilmington Public Library, for sharing her experience with this successful family engagement project!

Wilmington Public Library Week of the Young Child Art Show

Wilmington Public Library Week of the Young Child Art Show

Tell us about your community partnership.

For the last four years, the Wilmington Memorial Library has partnered with preschools and daycares to host an art show to celebrate the Week of the Young Child in April. Youth Services Librarian Barbara Raab coordinates this collaborative event. The children create the artwork that is mounted on black construction paper provided by the library. The library staff collects the artwork for exhibit at the library. The staff at the preschool and daycare centers distribute invitations to an opening reception that the library hosts for the young artists and their families. The reception is the kickoff event prior to the Week of the Young Child when the art work is on display in the library.

Week of the Young Child Art Show

Week of the Young Child Art Show

How did you connect with your community partners?

A list of preschools and family daycares and contact information was obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care’s online geographically-searchable directory of licensed child care programs. All preschools and family daycares in Wilmington were contacted, either by letter or email, inviting them to participate in the art show. The invitation also included information about services that we provide to preschools and day cares, including on-site storytime visits and the opportunity the check out Early Literacy Fun Packs (kits in a backpack that contain books on a theme, a music CD, toys and games and an activity guide on how to use the materials in the backpack that promote the five early literacy practices of singing, talking, reading, playing and writing). Continue reading


In this interview, Kelly McManus, the Library Media Specialist at the Groton Dunstable Regional High School, shares her experience with coordinating an evening of TED talks at her high school. The tagline for TedTalks is “ideas worth spreading.” This collaboration is an idea worth spreading!  Maybe you would like to replicate this partnership with your library community?



Tell us about your community partnership. 

As you may know, TED is an annual conference that brings together the world’s leading thinkers and doers to share ideas.  These short, thought provoking talks are engaging, inspiring and powerful. In that same spirit, TEDx is a local, self-organized event that brings together people to share a TED like experience.  Groton Dunstable Regional High School students just recently ran their second TEDxYouth@GDRHS: an evening event open to the public that includes short talks, art, live music, thoughtful discussion and light refreshments.   Continue reading