Prescription painkillers and illicit fentanyl are fuelling a national epidemic of opioid-related overdoses, claiming the lives of thousands of Canadians. This is an all too familiar headline, one that had the Chief Public Health Officer unveiling very grim statistics this past September. We heard that every day an average of eight Canadians die of drug related overdoses. In a recent Globe and Mail article, Kelowna had the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of hospitalization due to opioid poisoning in 2016-17, 36.3 for every 100,000 population.

So what does that mean for our libraries and our library workers? How do you balance your natural response to such a crisis with your equally natural caution to take on the role of First Responder in drug overdoses?

We have all heard about the many issues staff are dealing with in branches such as KL, VE, WK, but it is not limited to larger urban libraries, issues are also popping up in rural libraries. We have also all seen the increase of global banning notices these past weeks.

We realize that libraries are changing. Libraries are community hubs, and as such reflect the many faces of their communities. As library workers, we want libraries to continue to be a safe haven for all, a place where everyone is welcomed regardless of their economic or social status. A place to gather, learn, explore, dream, read. After all that is the reason, most of us chose to work in a library!

The question is, how do we balance serving the community and ensuring the safety of our library workers?  It is the Employer’s legal responsibility to ensure that their employees are working in a safe environment.

Some of you may have heard that the Union is not in favor of the ORL Libraries hosting the Naloxone kits. I have to admit that when we heard, more than a year ago, that there was a kit in one of our branches, we were very much against it. Not because we did not care about this horrific epidemic, not because we did not care that it could possibly save a life, but because we simply did not believe that there had been enough thought and research put into it. Does thought and research take time? Absolutely, but we believed, and still do, that our library workers deserve no less. We wanted to see a thorough risk assessment, guidelines and protocols, policies that had board approval, safeguard for workers that would not leave them out in the cold if something happened (physical or mental injury), and proper training protocols. We were also concerned about the possibility that the incidents would increase rather than decrease, once it became known that we had the kits, and would now be considered a safe injection site.

We did our homework consulting with many First Responders, Paramedics, Firefighters, Doctors, and the response was consistent, leave it to the professionals. We called Worksafe to see if employees would be covered, if they were physically hurt or suffered mental stress, since the Employer was saying that the administration of Naloxone was voluntary. The answer was guarded, yes it would be the same process as any other claim, file and go through the process. We turned to CUPE for help and advice. We did all this not because we were opposed to helping save a life, but because it is our responsibility to ensure that the Employer does their due diligence and our first priority is the safety of our members. CUPE has an excellent fact sheet which can be viewed on line at – opioid overdose response.

In the meantime, we presented the Employer with not only a list of our concerns but a sample letter of understanding designed to protect our members. The Employer has worked hard to address our concerns and takes its responsibilities seriously, it is a complex and difficult task, with each party trying their best, but, to date, we do not have a signed Letter of Understanding. Is the Letter of Understanding the best way to go, we think so, but are certainly open to looking at other options that would address our concerns and protect our members.

We do have repeated assurances by the Employer that IF, the ORL decided to host the kits, participation would be totally voluntary for the employees. The problem with that statement is that when the word voluntary is associated with work, it seldom is truly voluntary. As employees, we want to do a good job, please our Employer. Often things like loyalty, peer pressure, not wanting to stand out or be thought less of, wanting to be part of a team, not make waves or simply liking and respecting the person asking, have us doing something on a voluntary basis, not because we truly want to, but because we don’t think  we have a choice. At the end of the day all any worker wants to do is to go home to their family in the same state of mind and body as they left. That is what we all want, and that is the reason the Union is asking questions and has said no to hosting the Naloxone kit until all those concerns are addressed.

We hope that you will go online and check out the fact sheet.