PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Librarians in Portland are worrying about more than just overdue books — now they’re fighting overdoses.

With millions of visitors to Multnomah County Libraries every year, safety is always top of mind of staff. Now they have one more tool to help with that through a voluntary pilot program that trains managers to identify and treat someone who may have overdosed with Naloxone spray and rescue breathing.

Naloxone is a medication used to quickly reverse an opiod overdose. 

The Multnomah County Library in Portland. (KOIN) 

When Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke decided to turn her love for books into a career, she never thought it would mean being a leading character in the storyline of saving someone’s life.

“Certainly when I was in library school back in the ’90s I didn’t get training on how to administer life-saving drugs,” Oehlke said. “That said, libraries have always been a resource for those facing the greatest barriers for any community.” 

In the last year and a half, the Multnomah County Library System has had 3 people survive overdoses. In the last year, the system responded to 40 drug-related issues, pointing to a greater issue in the area.

“In the three-county region, we had nearly 200 deaths related to opiods in 2017 and we are on track for a similar number this year,” Multnomah County health officer Dr. Paul Lewis said. 

Lewis helped influence the pilot program at six locations. While calling 911 is the first step, what happens in the minutes before help arrives is crucial. 

“The reason opiods kill people is because you stop breathing,” Lewis said. “All you need are a couple of breaths, that’s often all that is needed to help someone who is having an overdose.”

The program is in trial period until the end of summer and from there, staff will determine whether they will continue.

“At the end of the day this is about human beings and lives,” Oehlke said. “We are really committed to being part of the solution.”