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Seattle Library will allow staff to administer opioid overdose reversing Narcan

Note: This story has been edited to more accurately reflect the number of overdoses in or near Seattle libraries.

For months, the Seattle Public Library has been looking into whether to allow employees to carry and administer Narcan, an opioid overdose treatment, and they’ve reached a decision: Library staff will be allowed to administer Narcan to potential overdose victims.

"Staff members who agree to administer Narcan would take library health training, and use library provided medicine," said Rick Sheridan with Seattle Public Library.

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Narcan, also known by its generic name, naloxone, is a nasal spray drug that can reverse an opioid overdose. The library's decision reverses long-standing guidance advising employees against using the drug to treat patrons who may have overdosed.

According to the library, no doses of naloxone are available to staff yet. The library will make an order for the drug which will be placed in first-aid kits. The drug will be administered entirely on a volunteer basis. Trainings for staff who want to volunteer to be able to administer Narcan will be available. The library expects change in this policy to take a few months.

Availability of the drug will be based on how many staff have volunteered to administer it at a given site. As the library puts it: "In other words, there is no guarantee that a patron who overdoses on Library grounds will receive naloxone."

In the last three and a half years, there have been 42 suspected opioid overdoses in or near Seattle Public Libraries and King County Libraries, according to local public health records. Of those suspected overdoses, 18 were at or near Seattle libraries, based on data from January 2019 through July 2022.

Sheridan says a library employee concerned about patron safety prompted the policy review. The policy was initially in place to protect employees from any legal liability (King County Library has a similar policy). Employees were previously instructed to call 911 for any suspected overdose. Seattle library officials determined this week that staff are protected from legal liability in this case.

Earlier this year, parents in Seattle began a similar push for Seattle Public Schools to allow school staff to administer Narcan.