CHICAGO - The Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Department of Public Health announced Thursday a new program that will offer the overdose reversal medication Narcan at select library branches.
According to a news release, by increasing access to this harm reduction tool, the program aims to prevent opioid-related overdose deaths in areas of the city most acutely affected by overdose.
Narcan is an FDA-approved nasal spray form of naloxone, which is a crucial tool in the public health response to the opioid crisis. Narcan does not require medical training to administer and has no harmful effects if given to someone who is not experiencing an overdose, the release states; adding that Narcan distribution programs have been shown to decrease opioid-related overdose fatalities nationwide.
CDPH-provided Narcan will be available in wall-mounted boxes at the initial 14 library branches starting in mid-January, the release states. Patrons will not need to provide any information to access the Narcan, and may take as many kits as they would like. CDPH has provided training to library staff at participating branches on Narcan administration and distribution, and will continue to provide support to CPL as this initiative expands. The initial 14 branches were chosen based on a geographic analysis of opioid-related overdoses conducted by CDPH, and include: Austin, Chicago Bee, Coleman, Hall, King, Legler, Manning, North Austin, R.M. Daley, South Shore, West Chicago Ave, West Englewood, West Town, and Whitney Young.
"More than 75% of people who die from opioid overdose, do so here in Illinois before an emergency medical team makes it to the scene," said Dr. Wilnise Jasmin, CDPH Medical Director of Behavioral Health. "People from all walks of life may misuse drugs, and potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are increasingly being added to all substances. The presence of these powerful opioids increases one’s risk of experiencing an overdose. It is often bystanders who can intervene quickly and by having Narcan widely available in public spaces, we can prevent persons from dying from an opioid overdose and buy more time for emergency medical personnel to arrive. The goal of harm reduction is to keep people alive and provide them with a chance to enter recovery."
The health department and library branches are launching the program at a time when an alarming number of people in Chicago are dying of opioid-related overdoses, the release states. In 2020, 1,303 people died of an opioid-related overdose in Chicago, which is an increase of 52% over 2019, and the highest number ever recorded in the city’s history.
According to the release, 86% of these deaths involved fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid that increases the risk of overdose. While the increase in overdoses in 2020 partially reflects pandemic conditions that make it more challenging for people to access care while exacerbating social isolation and mental health stressors, it is important to note that opioid-related overdoses were increasing at the end of 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.
Public libraries across the United States have responded to the opioid crisis by providing free Narcan to patrons, the release states. Libraries offer a key environment for this harm reduction intervention as they are a safe and trusted location in the community and a space where particularly vulnerable populations come for a host of services.
In Chicago, public libraries are also located at the heart of many of the neighborhoods most impacted by opioid overdose, the release states. Making Narcan available at these locations provides a targeted, community-centered intervention to address opioid overdose and equips CPL staff with the training and appropriate tools to best serve their patrons.
"Librarians provide critical resources to some of our city’s most vulnerable residents on a daily basis and we are honored to partner with them to increase access to this life saving medication in response to the ongoing overdose epidemic," said Matt Richards, CDPH Deputy Commissioner of Behavioral Health. "We hope that this collaboration will inform future partnerships between CDPH and CPL as we consider new and innovative ways to integrate mental health and recovery resources into Chicago’s libraries."
According to the release, CDPH and CPL will track the amount of Narcan distributed at the participating branches and use this information to inform further public health initiatives aimed at curbing overdoses and linking individuals to treatment.
"We are proud to partner with CDPH to improve the lives of Chicagoans and strengthen the communities we serve. As we continue to thoughtfully examine the ways our libraries support the neighborhoods we are in, this partnership to offer Narcan at library branches is a natural fit," said Chicago Public Library Deputy Commissioner Maggie Clemons. "We have libraries located in every neighborhood, safe and trusted community anchors that serve all Chicagoans and help each neighborhood discover its potential. We look forward to an ongoing relationship with CDPH to enhance additional health resources in our libraries."
CDPH has received funding from the CDC's Overdose Data to Action grant to develop innovative data-driven approaches to overdose prevention.