THE HELP DESK
Opioid Overdoses and Public Libraries
by Sophia Guevara
One time when I visited Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown branch, I noticed a new vending machine on the first floor. I decided to check it out and was surprised that it was being used to distribute free dual-dose boxes of naloxone. At the time, I wasn’t aware of what naloxone was, but I saw that the boxes had a label that highlighted a nonprofit called Home of New Vision. I decided to do some research to learn why the machine was there. I also reached out to the library and was put in contact with Rich Retyi, its communications and marketing manager.
WHAT IS NALOXONE?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, naloxone is “a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist. This means that it attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose.” Opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. If a person does not have opioids in their system, the drug will have no effect. There are two forms of naloxone: injectable and prepackaged nasal spray. The nasal spray doesn’t require assembly or formal training to use.
THE NALOXONE VENDING MACHINE
So what are the origins of the vending machine? I found an April 4, 2022, article on the MLive news website written by Ryan Stanton: “New Vending Machine at Ann Arbor Library Offers Free Kits to Stop Opioid Overdoses.” It mentions an April 1 tweet by the Ann Arbor District Library director, Eli Neiburger, thanking the partner for this project, Home of New Vision, for stocking the vending machine at the downtown library with boxes of naloxone nasal spray. The machine, whose boxes contain instructions and two doses, is described by Neiburger as “[s]elf-serve and free to all.” The MLive article goes on to discuss an “increase in opioid-related deaths, according to the county health department. …” It then shares that the former library director had “sounded the alarm about overdoses happening at the downtown library when she spoke out at a City Council meeting in 2014.”
HOME OF NEW VISION
So, what is Home of New Vision? The organization’s About Us page describes it as “a leader in the field of substance use disorder treatment and a voice in the State of Michigan for over 20 years.” Retyi tells me that the machine is “100% an effort by Home of New Vision. They conceived of it and manage it and [the library] only offers space where they can do their work. [W]e’re happy to provide publicly accessible spaces where Home of New Vision can do this work.” Retyi says Home of New Vision takes care of restocking the machines, which are now at all five branches of the Ann Arbor District Library. Retyi notes that they are being restocked “regularly,” showing that the community is making use of the kits. Home of New Vision did not respond to requests for an interview for this column.
AN EXPERIENCE AT ANOTHER LIBRARY
Doing further research on this topic led me to a blog post from Syracuse University’s online Master of Science in Library and Information Science program titled “Public Libraries Are Key Players Fighting the Opioid Crisis. Here’s What Other Organizations Can Learn From Them.” It tells the story of a public library director named Matt Pfisterer whose library was experiencing drug overdoses in its bathrooms. Pfisterer and some of his staffers had been trained on how to administer naloxone, and he had to put that training to use to “help resuscitate a woman who had overdosed outside the library—and he went on to do the same for two more people after that incident.” What about liability? The post highlights Good Samaritan laws and shares that New York and Michigan are states “with laws that specifically allow libraries to possess and use naloxone and protect staff from liability when treating overdoses.” It then goes on to share lessons learned from libraries combating the opioid crisis and provides links to readers who want to learn more about the topic.