Taking a Toll: A N.H. Library Becomes Place to Help Children Affected by Opioids

Sep 21, 2018

Morning Edition is taking a look at how the opioid epidemic is affecting children – and the people and programs who support them – in New Hampshire.

It's part of NHPR's Crossroad series, examining the impacts of addiction in New Hampshire.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley met with Carol Eyman at the Nashua Public Library. Eyman is the outreach coordinator for the library, which has begun to partner with the city and non-profits to help children in the opioid crisis. Eyman says these days, libraries can be about much more than books and DVDs.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So a perfect example is this room here. What we really are seeing is a need for meeting space. So one type of meeting that might take place here is a supervised visit where there's a parent who does not have custody of the child for whatever reason and can only visit under supervision. Generally, they would probably take the child to the children's room because there's things to do there – to read, or if there's toys or whatever. An older child, they might use one of these rooms.

Have you seen a dramatic rise in recent years in children that are coming in through the library doors looking for these kinds of services?

We haven't had people specifically asking for them, but we have had agencies contact us that want to use the library, because they know that their clients know where the library is, have been here many times and feel comfortable. It's on the bus routes. It's walkable from many of the neighborhoods where their clients live. So yeah, we've been asked to do a lot of partnerships.

It's centrally located. It's downtown and the doors are open. The public can walk through.

Staff at Nashua Public Library, like others around New Hampshire, are trained in the use of Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Another thing that we just started doing this summer is partnering with Southern New Hampshire Services. They work with the Department of Agriculture to get free meals to kids in the summer. So during the school year they can get free lunch, but at the end of the year they don't have that available. So there are various places around town where they can get free breakfasts or lunch. So this year Southern New Hampshire Services would deliver 20 bag lunches to us every day available for kids up to the age of 18. No questions asked, we just give that to them.

And then after, End 68 Hours of Hunger. Have you heard of that organization? So they got in touch with us. And so they provide bags of non-perishable food on Fridays that kids can take home. So the title of the organization, End 68 Hours of Hunger, refers to the time from when a child leaves school on Friday until Monday morning when they come back. If there's problems in the family, if there's a drug problem, often they're not getting fed during those 68 hours. So this is an organization that sends them home with non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food so they won't go hungry over the weekend.

Does that put a strain on the library in general?

You know there's some things that we have to do that maybe a small, rural library wouldn't do. We do have full-time security. They get to really know the regulars that come in, that might have problems. And they know about how to refer them to services. They have training in Narcan, the use of Narcan. And we have some of our other staff members have been trained in that too, or at least trained to recognize overdose symptoms, which is – you know sometimes you'll hear librarians say that this is not what I went to library school to learn. But it's part of being open to the public and being available to anybody.

And again respecting privacy for library patrons, but you must see the same people, and in fact the same children, coming through those doors on a regular basis. I mean it must be hard at a personal level. How does that weigh on library staff personally?

Well, it can be frustrating. You know we aren't social workers. So we don't have all the skills to help people. But we do get to know them, and we do have people come in periodically for training from like Greater Nashua Mental Health Center. They have one outreach worker that has come in and done training, and we can call her any time to come and talk to somebody who we think is in need for whatever reason.

Can you give us an age range of the kids that are coming through that are on their own?

So, our code of conduct says that you need to be at least 7-years-old to be alone in the library. We have a teen room, and we see a lot of middle school age -- that's a kid that often will come here alone and spend time here in the afternoon. We have two teen librarians. Their names are Ashley and Ashley, both spelled the same way, and they just have created a really warm environment and lots of programs going on. So that's the age group that is often in here, and many of them developed a nice relationship with the teen librarians in a kind of trusting environment.

It strikes me that librarians have become much like teachers – that kind of first line of defense where they can see maybe there's some trouble in a child's home life before anyone else might.

A human relations teacher at Nashua High [School] South got in touch with us, because in her classes she was seeing a lot of impact of the opioid epidemic emotionally. And I don't think just necessarily that these kids had substance problems, but it was in their family and affecting them. So she led several sessions here in the past year or year and a half where just discussion groups. And we've also had somebody from the city come and [give] Narcan training to the public there. So sometimes I tell a friend that I've been trained in using Narcan and we keep it in the building, and they're shocked by that. But that's just the least we can do.