Matt Pfisterer, the director of the Middletown Thrall Library in New York, who once revived a woman with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times
MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. — The director of the public library in this Hudson Valley town calls his assistant and security guard “Starsky and Hutch.” They have been trained to spot signs of overdose in library patrons — paleness and shortness of breath when it is heroin; sudden collapse when it is fentanyl — and administer the drug naloxone. They patrol the bathrooms and stacks at the Middletown Thrall Library, checking on anyone who is dozing.
“It’s easier to call the police, to wait for E.M.S.,” said the library director, Matt Pfisterer, who had to decide whether to use the overdose-reversing drug himself a few years ago, after he found a woman lying in the grass outside, unconscious and covered with ants.
“You don’t know how they’re going to react,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, you ask, ‘Do I want to see this person dying in front of me?’ ‘No.’ So you take the leap.”
The opioid epidemic is reshaping life in America, including at the local public library, where librarians are considering whether to carry naloxone to battle overdoses. At a time when the public is debating arming teachers, it is another example of an unlikely group being enlisted to fight a national crisis.
Philadelphia became the poster child for naloxone-toting librarians last year after the Inquirer wrote about a library where one woman had revived several people. Cities including Denver and San Francisco have also started training library staff to use the drug, which comes in the form of a nasal spray and is commonly known by the brand name Narcan.
Will Hopper, a former police officer, is now one of the security guards at the Middletown Thrall Library in Middletown, N.Y. Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times
But outside major cities, librarians are weighing whether to stock the drug, too. Across New York State, like in much of the country, they describe struggling with overdoses — one more sign of the severity of the opioid crisis, which killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States in 2016, and of the rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse.