Drug users are visiting libraries in droves lately, and while that sounds really promising, it’s actually far from it. Unfortunately, the same qualities that make a library appealing for studying purposes - quiet, tucked away spaces where people will generally leave you alone - are the same qualities that heroin and opioid users find appealing as places to go to have privacy in order to shoot up.
You would never think of a library being the scene of a drug overdose, but that’s exactly what happened in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when police, firemen, and medical personnel responded to the call. A 47 year-old man died in Norfolk, Virginia recently when he overdosed in a library bathroom and a patron discovered his body. Police have also responded to calls in Batesville, Indiana and Brunswick, New Jersey where they had to revive individuals who took advantage of the libraries’ serene atmospheres to do their drugs.
A homeless man accidentally overdosed on heroin in the Oak Park Public Library in Chicago, Illinois back in April, and his body might have been in that quiet, third-floor bathroom for days before a maintenance worker stumbled upon it on a Monday morning.
With the recent surge in heroin and opioid use in this country, drug overdoses are being discovered in the unlikeliest of places, and libraries are not alone. Public overdoses have been reported in restaurants, gas stations, and even hospitals. The problem with libraries, though, is that they are free for whoever wants to walk in, no questions asked, and not only is loitering allowed but it is welcome, making libraries perhaps the only place where people can go and hang out for hours without the requirement of a transaction, or any interaction from staff.
As far as the Ann Arbor library is concerned, it is heartbreaking to learn that they are already taking steps to prevent further overdoses, such as removing bathroom ceiling tiles and toilet tanks where people can stash their drugs, as well as locking the restrooms - all actions that were taken ten years ago to try to halt the number of cocaine overdoses that occurred on the premises, and now it’s deja vu all over again, only with heroin and opioids as the culprits this time.
Josie Parker, the director of the Ann Arbor library, told The Washington Post that she had raised concerns when she heard talk that there were plans to build a public park right next to the library. She knew that this could only spell more trouble insofar as free and public places attracting even more drug users.
Parker says that police now routinely walk through the library to keep an eye on things, and social workers have “set up shop” within the library to routinely check in with its patrons. This, Parker says, takes away some of the anonymity that might otherwise make patrons feel comfortable enough to do things that they might not otherwise do if they were not so anonymous.