Opioid users are flocking to libraries in droves. Here's what happens when they overdose.

Last month, someone had a medical emergency at the Philadelphia Public Library, and distressed onlookers struggled with how to help.

Thankfully, someone who knew what to do rushed to the scene — another overdose, another librarian at the ready.

Ben, a librarian at a Midwestern public library, sees such overdoses on a weekly basis. "There are times it's happening multiple times a day," he says. "Not too long ago, we had two in the same restroom at the same time. We call security; security calls paramedics. Of course they always find somebody lying there."


Many of the people being asked to respond in the moment — to think clearly and decisively in a life-or-death situation, and sometimes even to administer life-saving treatment — are librarians.

But do we have a right to expect that of them? Do we have any choice?

While opioid overdoses happen everywhere, it's been impossible to miss the stories of overdoses happening in the restrooms of public libraries.

Boston. Cleveland. Chicago.

Curious as to why libraries have been so hard-hit, I reached out to librarians in several different cities, starting with Vermont librarian Jessamyn West.

"There are a lot of places that are de facto public meeting spaces because of how they're used. People hang out at the baseball field, or the Cumberland Farms, the bar, the church," West tells me.

But most of these places require people to be a client or established member of the community in order to belong. "The library doesn't," she says. "It really strives to be available to everyone."

Libraries are quiet, private spaces you can stay for extended periods of time and not be questioned. While you might need an access code to use a Starbucks bathroom, that's not a barrier you'll encounter at a library.

Ben has another theory as to why addicts head to the library: "If something happens, someone will alert the authorities."

"They know someone will have Narcan and help them out," he adds. Narcan (also known as Naloxone) is an opioid antidote.

I asked Dr. Chad Brummett, assistant professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, what happens without access to Narcan or knowledge of CPR. How much time does one have?

"With oral pills, the onset might be much slower. Unfortunately, a lot of overdoses we’re seeing right now are from heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil, and that can be incredibly fast, like minutes, a minute," Brummett says. "If somebody has just shot up fentanyl, your timeline might be incredibly short."

Within the library community, boundaries are always being discussed and redrawn around which services libraries can and should provide.

Debate and dissent are common. While the American Association of Libraries states it is "crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society," that doesn't mean every librarian will feel equally comfortable in that role.

"Being a librarian now implies being an expert in way too many fields: social work, child development, health care," wrote one member of a Facebook group for librarians.

A public librarian in Maine who spoke under the condition of anonymity shared that they "have found needles throughout the building (namely in the bathrooms, but not always)."

Another librarian at an urban branch told me, "This happens with great regularity here. I doubt, however, that you will get anyone in authority to talk honestly about it."

Annoyed Librarian, an anonymous Library Journal contributor, spoke for many when they expressed concerns about stepping into a first responder role: "Is the goal just to make sure that people don't die of overdoses in the library? Or is it to help them before they overdose?" they asked. "Or is that the social worker's job? It's hard to tell anymore."

Between January and March 2017, the Denver Public Library's Central Branch experienced six overdoses, including one death.

In a move that's made national headlines, its administration decided to stock Narcan and offer voluntary training to staff members who want to learn how to administer it. Chris Henning, a spokesperson for the Denver Public Library, says that while the administration expected some public resistance, they've received only positive feedback.

One of the reasons Denver has had such success rolling out their program is that they're among a growing number of libraries employing on-site social workers. Aside from their other duties, social workers at their branches offer daily drop-in hours. Their primary clients are homeless people seeking help with shelter, medical issues, and veterans benefits.

But social workers are a strategic investment, one not all library systems can afford or are willing to make.

If Denver and Philadelphia are arming staff with Narcan and training, should other cities follow their lead?

Why wouldn't they?

Based on what librarians shared with me, the most likely reasons are a mixture of bureaucratic inertia, ignorance of the true scope of the problem, and fear of negative publicity. "The administration seems [to have] turned a blind eye to it," says Ben, of his city's library system. "They don't have to deal with it. We deal with it on a very personal level because we see it every day and they don't."

It's worth noting that those heroic Philadelphia librarians didn't wait for Narcan training, instead reaching out to a local a needle-exchange program to show them how to administer it.

But even Narcan isn't a perfect fix: The antidote is effective at blocking the opioids only for a short time — typically less than an hour — so it's still critical to get someone who has overdosed to a hospital so they can be properly treated.

Ultimately, even with training and better resources, libraries are not well equipped to address the root cause of the epidemic.

And as long as they remain on the front lines, witnessing overdoses on the job, feelings of sadness and helplessness will weigh on some librarians.

"None of us [are] trained social workers," says Ben. "To maintain a certain level of empathy when you're seeing this day in and day out [is] taxing and difficult."

Is it fair to ask librarians to step into the chasm between where the social safety net ends and their real job — that is, the one they went to school for — begins?

After speaking with so many librarians, I still don't know the answer. What I do know is that many librarians are willing to do their best to help in these frightening and sometimes tragic scenarios, and for that they deserve not just our support, but that of their administrators, too.

"[Opioid addiction is] a tragedy," says West. "Everybody has to take partial responsibility for the fact that we have an overdose problem. The big thing is that librarians really care, and caring is hard when people are in pain."

This article originally appeared on Catapult and is reprinted here with permission.

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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.