Three local library systems are training staff in the use of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone and others are considering the move as more government agencies are joining the fight against Maryland's opioid epidemic.
Library staff in Harford, Carroll and Anne Arundel counties have begun to offer training in administering naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan.
Meanwhile, library systems across the region are giving patrons access to a database of ebooks, audiobooks and other resources on addiction, recovery and the opioid epidemic, part of an effort to make libraries a greater resource for people confronting drug abuse.
Carroll County libraries director Lynn Wheeler authorized naloxone training after two employees who had learned how to use the drug through the county health department administered it to a woman they believed was suffering an overdose in a restroom of the Westminster library. The woman recovered.
Wheeler said 121 library employees have now received the training.
"As a public place, people coming in and out, the staff wants to be prepared to help people in whatever way they need help," she said. "I am very, very proud of our staff because all the training is volunteer — no one is required to get Narcan training. Everybody volunteered to get it."
The Anne Arundel system held its first staff training session, an optional class provided through the county health department, this month.
No one has administered the antidote yet, a spokeswoman said. Staff members called 911 last month in response to a potential overdose.
"It's not a situation that we want to be in without resources," spokeswoman Christine Seldmann said. "A lot of our staff view customers as family. They see them all the time, they see them in different periods of their lives and want to be able to help them in emergency situations."
Harford County libraries have been offering naloxone training to staff members since 2015, system CEO Mary Hastler said. Their staff hasn't had to administer it yet, she said, but she wanted to support the community amid the growing public health crisis.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore is considering offering naloxone training to staff, a spokeswoman said. Libraries in Philadelphia, Denver and other cities already have offered training.
More than 2,000 Marylanders died last year from drug- and alcohol-related intoxication, the state health department reported. A majority overdosed on opioids. The number represented a 66 percent increase from 2015.
For the first three months of 2017, the numbers climbed another 37 percent to 550 overdose deaths. That included 372 from the powerful opioid additive fentanyl.
Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency over the crisis in March. Police, fire and rescue and health departments across the region have launched programs to assist people with addiction and to help their families.
Now libraries are staking a place in that fight as well.
Libraries in Maryland gained access last month to a collection of 68 ebooks and other resources through OverDrive, a digital content provider. While such information has long been available at libraries, this is the first time they've been accessible in an online collection available for immediate download.
Patrons "don't have to walk in," said Jason Stockel, collections manager at OverDrive. "They can go to the website and safely borrow titles. They can do so with some discretion.
"We saw a real need and kind of felt the heartstrings pulled at because of the opioid crisis going on, and how it's specifically affecting libraries and librarians," Stockel said. "As they are going through this, we want to be any kind of partner we can for them and make their jobs easier."
Maryland library branches must opt in to provide the collection. Stockel was uncertain whether all of the state's library systems had agreed to post the collection, but said a "vast majority, if not all, of the library card holders in the state of Maryland have access."
The Enoch Pratt system in Baltimore is one of the systems that has opted in. Patrons must go to the library website to access the collection, spokeswoman Meghan McCorkell said, but can download titles directly onto smartphones, laptops, tablets and other devices.
The Pratt system is completing a web guide outlining other resources related to opioid addiction, including local support organizations, according to Wesley Wilson, chief of the State Library Resource Center.
Wilson said libraries, in their traditional role of supplying information to the public, can be important players in the fight against opioid addiction.
"Libraries and librarians are trusted," Wilson said. Patrons "know they're not going to be judged, so they really are very comfortable coming in and asking questions that are important."
In Carroll County, library staff have already found that to be the case.
Maureen Aversa, who helped administer naloxone to the woman at the Westminster library in December, said that the day the ebooks became available, she used them to help a patron seeking information.
"She had come in asking for resources on addiction, so just that very day I was able to say, 'Let me show you this,' " Aversa said. "She was very excited we were able to offer those items."
Aversa said information on addiction resources fits well with the library mission to be a community resource.
"We provide resources every day to people coming in … looking for anywhere from treatment programs to housing issues," Aversa said. "While we may not be handing them a book, we may be saying: 'This is where you go for housing, here is how you might go about getting your Independence Card.' "
Wheeler, whose career in libraries spans 45 years, said it's important that libraries embrace a role being "part of the county emergency management network."
"People will say to us from time to time, 'Well, why do you let everyone into the Westminster library?' " she said. "You know what? Every one of our branches treats people with respect, welcomes them into the branch and as long as they are adhering to our behavior guidelines, they are welcome to stay."
"The young woman whose life was saved [in December] was evicted from the library for bringing drugs in," she said. "We are still adhering to our behavioral policies, but saving lives first."
Reporter Andrea McDaniel contributed to this article.