Heroin overdoses increase at Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

CINCINNATI -- When Curtis Hopkins decided to cut back on the amount of television he watched, he decided to spend more time at the downtown Cincinnati branch of the local public library. He likes reading novels, especially those by mystery and suspense author Stuart Woods.

That was a year ago. Since then, Hopkins has witnessed a very real-life drama: People overdosing on heroin at the huge facility that straddles Ninth Street.

"It's a constant-type thing that’s going on," Hopkins said. "And I don’t know what they’re going to do about it, but it's kind of starting to look kind of ridiculous."

What Hopkins has seen firsthand is reflected in data from the Cincinnati Police Department: So far in 2016, there have been as many runs for heroin overdoses at the Downtown branch as the prior two years combined. In fact, if the trend continues, the Downtown library is on pace to see 18 overdoses this year.

"I've heard instances like this at a lot of places, but being down here at this one, and just being here for this one year and constantly hearing about it -- 'it's happened again, it's happened again' -- and constantly hearing it, it’s like, 'What's going to -- what’s happening to the place now? What’s going to become of the Downtown library?'" Hopkins said.

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From January to April, there were seven heroin-related calls to the Downtown library, six of which were overdoses. Police data show they tend to happen in bathrooms. Most were in the afternoons and evenings; four of the seven calls were on Fridays.

 

Gene Sherrod, of Mount Washington, said he visits the Downtown library for computer access, so that he can look for jobs. He, too, said he's witnessed an overdose there.

"I was in the bathroom, and a guy OD'd in there ... and I went and got them. They called paramedics, but you know, that epidemic is getting bad all over," Sherrod said. "It's just sad."

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Representatives from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County declined to comment on the overdoses. Lt. Steve Saunders, Cincinnati Police Department spokesman, said it's challenging to deter people from injecting heroin in public restrooms no matter the place. Bathrooms in restaurants, gas station and parks, for example, are all places that people sometimes use to get high, he said.

One possibility would be locking bathroom doors and requiring people to get a key from the front desk, Saunders said. But that's not always a quick and easy solution.

"It's time-consuming. It's maybe labor-intensive for people in a public space. And that's just maybe an option for people to consider, but it's not always practical," he said.

His top piece of advice for any employee: Notice if someone is showing obvious signs they might have used drugs or be drunk. In that case, Saunders said, someone on staff can approach the individual and ask them what they're doing or if they need help, "because it’s not too difficult to see someone who’s going through withdrawals or struggling with their own belongings or things of that nature."

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As to whether off-duty officers should carry naloxone, an antidote that counteracts the effects of opiates such as heroin, Saunders said it might be problematic.

"It's more of a medical application, and there is definitely training involved with that," he said. "So we don't mandate that officers carry it, but I think a place could, where they have security on site, make that available. It's an individual choice from an individual location."

As the overdoses continue, library patrons like Juan Hamilton, of Elmwood Place, will continue to see the real-life drama playing out among the stacks.

"They grabbed him out the bathroom and took him down to the ambulance," Hamilton said of an overdose he witnessed. "And it was just kind of shocking to me, because I never thought there would be that type stuff going on in the library."

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