New Orleans is one of only a handful of cities across the nation, and the only city in Louisiana, to supply public libraries with a drug that can stop an opioid overdose.
The drug is Nalaxone, commonly called “Narcan.” Last year, the New Orleans library system decided to try an idea that’s being talked about nationally-- asking the city health department to provide the libraries with Narcan and teach librarians how to administer it.
Adrienne Strock, Branch Manager at the Mid-City Library on Canal Street, says that any initial skepticism about saving the life of an overdosing library patron was countered by the idea that libraries are supposed to help people.
“We’re being proactive,” says Strock, “we serve people from all walks of life so it seemed like a natural fit for us to have this training.”
The Narcan is kept behind the circulation desk and Strock knows she might have to grab it one day and use it. Not exactly what she thought she’d be doing-- when she became a librarian in 2003.
“I wanted a low-stakes profession,” she laughs, “where I make people happy, they go away happy, and go on with their lives.”
Now, ensuring their safety with Narcan has become part of the job.
Strock says her only real worry before the health department’s training session was that she might wind up hurting someone. But New Orleans Health Director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, says giving someone a dose of Narcan “has no downsides.”
“It has no harm potential, no abusive potential,” says Kanter, “And if you give it to someone who (isn’t) actually overdosing, nothing happens.”
The partnership between the city’s health department and the libraries started last fall and already it’s having a ripple effect. Kanter says business owners are starting to ask the health department how they can get an emergency supply of Narcan too.
“But I don’t want to limit (the use of Narcan) to public places,” says Kanter. “I really think everyone should have it and know how to use it.”
The opioid epidemic is spreading, especially because many people have become hooked on prescription pain pills.
“Opioids are so addictive, so dangerous,” says Kanter, that “outdated stereotypes” of who might suffer an opioid overdose no longer apply. The state requires pharmacies to dispense Narcan without a prescription, and Kanter always keeps an emergency dose nearby.
Heading into the Mid-City library to use a computer, A.J. Orr didn’t know that the libraries are stocking Narcan these days, but was glad to hear it.
“It’s a good idea because you never know,” said Orr. “If it can save a life-- resuscitate someone--it’s worth it.”