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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 www.helpline-online.com

(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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