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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh stocks opioid antidote

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 10:15 a.m.
A naloxone nasal injection device
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
A naloxone nasal injection device

If an opioid overdose occurs at a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh facility, trained staff members will be ready.

Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is available at the library system's 19 locations after the Allegheny County Health Department trained library staff in how to use the nasal spray, library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said. Opioid overdoses occasionally have occurred at libraries, she said.

“Libraries are microcosms of the community and, unfortunately, are not immune to the opioid epidemic,” she said, adding that patrons are not permitted to use drugs in library facilities. “Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a public space, open to everyone. We want to be responsive to our community needs as opioid overdoses and deaths in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County continue to rise.”

While police and paramedics routinely revive victims of drug overdoses in a national epidemic, the types of community members who are considered first responders in the crisis are changing. The health department and Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission have distributed naloxone to a variety of groups, including firefighters, shelters, probation officials and others.

In a program led by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, libraries are eligible to receive more than 60,000 kits of naloxone available through $5 million in state funding.

In Allegheny County, 650 people died last year of drug overdoses, up from 424 in 2015. In Westmoreland County, 174 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, compared to 124 people in 2015.

The training was important to help Carnegie Library staff members, while also helping authorities learn more about where drug overdoses are happening, said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. Any public place can be the setting for a person to overdose, she said.

“To some extent, that's been educational to us as well,” she said.

The training included information about using the nasal spray as well as how to help someone who has been revived, such as directing them to treatment resources and calling an ambulance. Thinnes compared the training to that for other emergencies, such as CPR or the use of an AED, which staff members also have. The naloxone kits have not been used since being stocked in the early summer, she said.

“It is the responsible thing to do,” she said.

Libraries around the country are stocking naloxone after experiencing problems with drug use in their facilities, from overdose deaths to used needles. Libraries in Reading and Philadelphia have reported a number of overdoses.

Westmoreland Library Network staff members received training a year ago about the epidemic, but there hasn't been a need to have naloxone at the facilities, said Cesare Muccari, library network director.

“In the library, we haven't seen anything, certainly not like I've heard in Reading and Philadelphia,” Muccari said.

Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission officials hope to expand the number of locations where naloxone is stocked with the kits they will receive through the new state program, said Liz Comer, director of clinical and case management services.

“We have a whole list of individuals who we're looking to reach out to, and libraries are on that list,” she said.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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