The opioid epidemic has gotten so bad in New Jersey that librarians are now being instructed to watch out for users overdosing inside a library bathrooms or behind rows of books.

“Our public libraries are obviously the most open building in a community, and we have had situations where librarians have had to call paramedics, for example, when someone has had an overdose,” said Pat Tumulty, the executive director of the New Jersey Library Association.

But there's an upside to drug users finding safe spaces in libraries. People may come into a library seeking information about addiction, treatment and overdoses and “we’re very aware and very cognizant of making sure that we have the resources available.”

To deal with the opioid issue, Tumulty said, the association is teaming up with mental health experts.

“Libraries in New Jersey are starting to partner with the Rutgers School of Social Work to actually have social workers in our libraries,” she said.

“These social workers can help individuals come in and identify community resources that can help them, because our libraries are the hub where people are coming for that kind of information," Tumulty said.

She said librarians in Jersey have not yet been specifically trained to administer naloxone, the anti-heroin antidote drug, but New York already has a law that allows libraries to stock it.

“I think it’s something we would have to look at very carefully, obviously in terms of how to train our librarians to use it. They are obviously not trained to be first-responders, I think we have to look at that, but it may be a discussion that local communities are going to have to have.”

She did point out “many of our librarians have taken mental health training, courses provided by the New Jersey State Library, so our librarians are really committed to helping the communities with these complex issues.”

Tumulty said there are many public programs in which health officials present information about opioid abuse in libraries, so the topic nothing new.

“It does touch every community. It’s not something that can be hidden away,” she said. “Our librarians are very aware of their communities, and certainly this opioid epidemic ... is coming to the forefront now.”

If someone does OD in a library, she said, the protocol for dealing with the situation is no different than if someone suffers a heart attack — call 911 immediately and take appropriate steps as necessary.

“We’re trying very hard to make sure the librarians have the skills that they need to react if the situation should happen in their library,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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