The opioid crisis in the United States is devastating, but there are no clear solutions on how to eliminate this growing and devastating problem. An episode of VICE News airing tonight on HBO goes a neighborhood in Philadelphia where librarians are trained to treat overdoses and resident Teddy Hackett spends hours picking up needles from the ground. “I come out here because of the children and the animals. Don’t want them to get poked,” he says. At most, he’s picked up 139 needles in a single day.
Philadephia is seeing an insurgence of “drug tourists” who flock to the city for fabled “pure heroin” and other opioids. McPherson Square Branch sits on top of what’s known as Needle Park for the constant needle debris that Teddy Hackett works to pick up everyday in a Sisyphean effort.
Inside the library, staff members are constantly on the alert for people nodding off and overdosing in the bathroom or right out in the open. They are trained to administer the OD antidote Narcan to opioid users on the brink of death. Librarian Chera Kowalski feels like the Narcan training is part of her civic duty as a librarian. “If you’re not adding skills, as a librarian specifically because you’re working with the public, you’re not fulfilling your role,” she says.
“I was very adamant about getting the Narcan training when he had an overdose in the building right by our public restroom, she continued. “There’s something extremely horrifying and upsetting about watching somebody slowly die and you can’t do anything. Narcan can come in a nasal spray or a mist.”
Chera, who has used Narcan six times since she was trained this March, says she witnessed a severe overdose two weeks ago. A child ran into the library saying someone fell outside. They ran out, gave him a dose, and they waved down some police officers who gave the person two more doses. Chera says she chose this “needle park” library location for a reason: her parents have both clean from heroin for over 20 years.
You can watch the full episode on YouTube right now.