The abuse of opioids (both prescription and illegal) is a major public health crisis in the US. The Centers for Disease Control describe how 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and the number of opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. More overdoses are occurring at public libraries, which leads to the question: what roles should librarians have in helping to prevent and treat opioid abuse?
Public Libraries Preventing and Treating Overdoses
A coworker recently shared a fantastic article with me from American Libraries (a publication of the American Library Association) by Anne Ford, called “Saving Lives in the Stacks.” The article describes how many public libraries are taking active steps to prevent overdoses onsite, such as:
Monitoring public bathroom use (to prevent overdoses in restroom stalls).
Training staff to administer Narcan (generic name naloxone), a medication that can reverse the life-threatening effects of opioid overdose while waiting for emergency services to arrive.
Public librarians often take on a wide variety of roles, ranging from teacher to program planner, but do librarians also need medical training to act as first responders? This question raises legal and ethical issues beyond what I’m able to answer myself, but there is one role that I’m confident librarians can fill during this public health crisis: as information providers.
Information on Opioid Addiction and Treatment
Medical, academic, and public librarians are working to create a range of online information tools for both the general public and for healthcare professionals on preventing and treating opioid addiction:
Public Libraries: Some public libraries also provide LibGuides or online lists about opioid prevention and treatment resources (especially information on local resources), such as the Westport Library in Westport, CT or the Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA.
Public librarians, especially those who have to handle actual overdoses and even provide emergency medical treatment, are true heroes in this battle, and all libraries (including academic and medical) can work to provide reliable information to the public and healthcare professionals on prevention and treatment resources for opioid addiction.
I just attended my first Medical Library Association (MLA) Annual Meeting (this year in Seattle, WA), and I came away with a lot of great new ideas, resources, and news from the health sciences information field. I’m still trying to absorb everything I’ve seen and learned over the past few days, but here’s a quick list of some of my most interesting takeaways from the conference:
Open Access Biomedical Journals – The vendor hall offered me the opportunity to explore the online tools and publications available from a variety of biomedical publishers, and I checked around for any open access resources they offered. A few open access publications and resources I came across include:
The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) recently released a new portal, NNLM RD3: Resources for Data-Driven Discovery. The portal offers subject primers on data science topics, resources for managing/storing/sharing data, and professional development opportunities related to data science.
LibGuides to Explore – I find LibGuides very useful, so I kept an eye out during the poster sessions for any interesting projects related to LibGuides. Two fantastic LibGuides I learned about:
Mobile Resources for Health from the University of Florida – Learn about health-related apps, ranging from apps for healthcare professionals (clinical apps, administrative/productivity apps, E-journal and literature database apps, etc.) to apps for patient education. The LibGuide is mobile-friendly, so learn about healthcare apps on your phone!
Disability Resource GuideDisability Resource Guide from University of Illinois – Learn about a variety of physical and mental disabilities, including depictions of the disability in popular literature and media, web/reference/academic resources, and common assistive technologies related to the disability.
New Online Learning Portal for MLA – The Medical Library Association recently launched MEDLIB-ED, an online education portal for health information professionals where users can “find, complete, track, and claim credit for educational activities.” A free competencies self-assessment is available where users can learn about the newly revised MLA Competencies for Lifelong Learning and Professional Success, rate their skills, and use the ratings to plan professional development.
Product Updates from National Library of Medicine (NLM) – The NLM provided updates about a number of their free online tools, including:
ClinicalTrials.gov: A beta version of the site is available for testing. New features include filters for refining search results, option to show/hide columns for search results, and the option to save studies of interest.
The population of adults over 65 in the US is increasing rapidly, and this growing population has an important need for reliable health information. According to The State of Aging and Health in America 2013 from the CDC, “two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million.” Another sobering statistic from the report states “two out of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions.” The bottom line is that more older adults will be seeking health information in the coming years about a variety of chronic conditions, and librarians should be ready. Librarians aren’t doctors and can’t begin to take the place of healthcare professionals, but we can guide older adults and their caregivers to reliable websites where they can find basic diagnosis and treatment information, which they can use to begin discussions with their physicians.
And if you think older adults don’t use the internet for finding health information online, read this study. Or this study.
Here are a few of my favorite government websites that share helpful and trustworthy information on a broad variety of health conditions and services targeted towards older adults:
NIH Senior Health – This site is extremely user-friendly (with options to enlarge text size and change color contrast for easier readability) and has reliable health information from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), both part of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Browse or search through health topics and videos with a focus on health conditions important to older adults. There’s even a great toolkit for trainers to teach older adults how to access reliable health information online.
Eldercare Locator– Use this resource from the Administration on Aging to search for local resources (search by zip code or city/state) or find services and information related to topics like Adult Day Program, Alzheimer’s Disease, Behavioral Health, etc. Online chat and a phone number (1-800-677-1116) are also available to contact.
A few others to note:CDC Healthy Aging has resources for advance care planning, chronic disease management, emergency preparedness, and more. LongTermCare.gov has helpful information on planning and paying for long-term care.
MedlinePlus is, without a doubt, my favorite online consumer health resource. MedlinePlus is the main consumer health portal created by the National Library of Medicine, and it has strict criteria to ensure that it only links to and publishes reliable, accessible, and high quality health information. The site offers a variety of tools for both the general public and healthcare professionals who work with the public, ranging from a medical encyclopedia to videos and multilingual patient information.
Here’s a quick list of my features on MedlinePlus:
Health Topics – Currently over 1000 Health Topics pages are available on MedlinePlus, and they cover “symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention for over 1000 diseases, illnesses, health conditions and wellness issues.” The Health Topics pages include a basic summary about the health condition, followed by an organized list of links to relevant websites related to the condition. Navigate through the list of links using a menu at the top of the page, with sections on latest news, diagnosis and tests, treatment, genetics, health check tools, clinical trials (links to ClinicalTrials.gov), journal articles (links to PubMed), find an expert, patient handouts, and much more. The Health Topics pages also link to information on the health topic in multiple languages and related medical encyclopedia articles.
Drugs and Supplements– Browse lists of generic or brand-name drugs and medical supplements to find information on “side effects, dosage, special precautions, and more.” The pages on individual drugs and supplements include all information on one page (which can be easily printed), in consumer-friendly language.
Medical Encyclopedia – Browse through over 4,000 articles from the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia on a broad variety of “diseases, tests, symptoms, injuries, and surgeries.” The medical encyclopedia pages include links to other related encyclopedia articles and health topics, as well as medical photographs and illustrations.
Tutorials on Understanding Medical Words and Evaluating Health Information– The Videos and Tools section of MedlinePlus includes many useful links to health videos, health check tools, and games, but I want to highlight two tutorials available on MedlinePlus which tackle topics important to most people who aren’t healthcare professionals. The “Understanding Medical Words” tutorial can be used to gain a better understanding of medical terminology and improve communication between patients and doctors, while the “Evaluating Health Information” tutorial teaches viewers how to judge the reliability of information found on health-related websites.
MedlinePlus has a number of additional features, like the latest health news and links to organizations and directories. The site is an indispensable resource for the general public and any professional who provides health information to the public, due to its reliability, ease of searching, and wide variety of topics.