Ban on Narcan Continues Amid Overdoses at Libraries; Harrell’s Pick for SDOT Director Answers Council Questions

1. Last month, we reported on the Seattle Public Library’s directive telling staff not to carry or use Narcan, or naloxone—a nasal spray that can restore breathing in people overdosing on opioids—because of potential liability issues.

The state’s Good Samaritan law exempts people who provide emergency care from civil liability, but a library spokeswoman said City Attorney Ann Davison’s office advised the library that library staffers were “likely” not covered by the law. King County Public Libraries, which operates outside Seattle, also bars staff from using Narcan.

Public libraries are among the only indoor places where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day without being expected to make a purchase or explain why they’re there. They’ve also been the location for dozens of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in recent years. According to data provided by the King County Department of Public Health, there have been at least 42 likely overdoses in or outside public libraries in King County since 2019, including 16 inside library branches. Since 2017, at least eight people have died of drug-related causes at libraries in King County, half of them in Seattle, including at least four involving opiates like heroin and fentanyl.

Bans on using Narcan force library staffers to call 911 and wait for emergency responders to arrive, adding several potentially fatal minutes to the time an overdosing person is unconscious and not receiving oxygen to their brain.

A review of recent fire department reports for overdoses at Seattle Public Library branches shows that it takes emergency responders between three and five minutes to arrive on the scene of an overdose and start administering aid. These reports also show that on at least one occasion, back in April, someone at the downtown Seattle library revived a patron with Narcan, the drug library staffers were formally barred from using just three months later.

The ban on using Narcan is based on the belief that library staffers, unlike other Washington state residents, are not protected under the state’s Good Samaritan laws when they administer aid. By that standard, library staffers shouldn’t be able to offer first aid to patrons experiencing minor medical emergencies, or attempt to assist people experiencing heat stroke when they come to the library to cool off in the summer. And yet they manage to do both. Why are overdoses categorically different?

2. Greg Spotts, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to lead the Seattle Department of Transportation, submitted detailed answers this week to a list of questions from the city council’s transportation committee about his goals for his first year, plan to get Vision Zero back on track, and ideas about how to create a more equitable transportation system. Spotts’ responses t check off a lot of boxes for people who support urbanism and alternatives to driving alone.

For example, in response to a question about creating “connected safe spaces for people to move throughout the city” without a car, Spotts noted that in many cases, “pressure to preserve just a few curbside parking spaces stands in the way of conveying cyclists safely across a busy intersection. Too many of our bike and pedestrian routes have discontinuities that render the route significantly less safe, useful and attractive than it could have been.” In 2019, former mayor Jenny Durkan killed plans to build a protected bike lane along a dangerous stretch of 35th Ave. NE after neighborhood and business groups argued that removing a few curbside parking spaces would devastate businesses in Wedgwood and Ravenna.

However, Spotts also hedged a bit when talking about commitments to new bike infrastructure, responding to a question about whether he would support creating new protected bike lanes as part of road resurfacing projects with an artful dodge. “I fully intend to support projects and routes as called for in the Council-approved Bicycle Master Plan; and will be engaging with staff, subject matter experts, and community as these projects are developed and constructed,” he wrote. As the Urbanist has reported, the city is currently working to integrate all its transportation related “master plans” into a single mega-plan, a move that some advocates worry could further reduce the city’s commitments to nonmotorized transportation.

He also ducked questions about whether parking enforcement officers belong at SDOT and if he would commit to removing the large concrete “eco-blocks” that business owners place illegally in the public right-of-way to keep people living in oversize vehicles from having a place to park. (Councilmember Sara Nelson, whose own business, Fremont Brewing, continues to flagrantly violate this law, is not on the transportation committee).


Previous SDOT directors learned the hard way that specific commitments can be tough to implement if they conflict with what their boss, the mayor, wants—which is probably why, when asked about equity in transportation investments, Spotts said only that Seattle’s most deadly streets for cyclists and pedestrians, Rainier Ave. S and Aurora Ave. N., “can potentially be reenvisioned to meet community needs.” Harrell has made it clear that his top transportation priorities include maintaining and repairing basic infrastructure like streets and bridges, not big-reach projects like protected bike paths connecting every part of the city.

Seattle will hear more from Spotts next month, when the transportation committee considers his nomination again after the council returns from summer recess.

4 thoughts on “Ban on Narcan Continues Amid Overdoses at Libraries; Harrell’s Pick for SDOT Director Answers Council Questions”

  1. I work for a different branch of government that’s not public facing, but is next to a govt services office that is public facing and serves folks on the fringes. A lot of their clientele end up in my office by mistake/they’re too out of it to follow directions to a place.

    Quite a few of them yell at my staff about needing pain pills so we asked our safety committee and also risk department about stocking narcan at our counter.

    If we were to administer narcan as staff we would no longer be good samaritan individuals but agents of our agency that would be held liable with the agency should anything go wrong. Administering narcan to an overdosing person is different than using our red cross first aid training to help someone who is choking, because narcan breaks the users high and they’ll fight the narcan administerer. If I apply pressure to a wound on someone that’s bleeding it’s highly unlikely to backfire like that. Due to fentanyl being in almost everything it’d probably take 4 narcans to revive a person and that’s just a lot of narcan and first aid to administer. Like just call in the medics.

    One of the first rules of first aid training given to government workers is don’t enter the situation to do first aid if anything doesn’t seem safe about the setting. I can see how people might feel unsafe around people they’ve seen behave strangely or with needles. We even have medics in Seattle that won’t enter scenes until police secure them. I’d want nothing less for library staff.

    A librarians life and wellbeing is worth at least as much as a drug users is. They just want to share knowledge and access to it. Why can’t they just do their job instead of other peoples?

  2. At least publicola admits in this article that a large number of homeless are addicted to drugs. Previously several articles expressedvehement opposition to the suggestion that many homeless use drugs. I agree with first commenter that librarians shouldn’t have to revive drug users as part of their job especially if they might then be sued.

    Regarding ecoblocks – they are only put up after neighborhoods and businesses are terrorized by crime, garbage, drug dealing, drug use and violence for months or years. Citizens deserve to live in a safe environment and pay taxes for this privilege. If the city can’t provide safety and ecoblocks can – then let the ecoblocks stay until another solution is found.

  3. Re #1: Maybe we need to have social workers assigned to libraries to deal with the overdosing. I don’t think library staff should be tasked with reviving these folks; that’s not the job they accepted, and I understand that people to whom narcan is administered can react unpredictably when the drug takes effect. I would, of course, prefer that drug users be banned from libraries if that’s what they’re using them for, but understand that’s unrealistic. As it is, non-addicts will, and may already have, begin avoiding libraries in order to avoid sharing that space with the addicted.

    Re #2: “if he would commit to removing the large concrete “eco-blocks” that business owners place illegally in the public right-of-way to keep people living in oversize vehicles from having a place to park. (Councilmember Sara Nelson, whose own business, Fremont Brewing, continues to flagrantly violate this law, is not on the transportation committee).” What about the flagrant violation of laws proscribing people living in RVs on the streets? That’s OK, but business people and even residents, blocking them from parking in front of their businesses and homes are somehow the violators, too? Puhlease!!

    1. Yeah, Seattle is slowly becoming the Wild West. If the city doesn’t have the money to house people, where would the money to remove those eco blocks come from? And nobody is going to admit to installing them. That happens at dawn when nobody is looking. There’s no way to fine anybody.

      Back in the 1880s, Seattle had a real problem with street drunks and lawlessness wreaking downtown. Saloon keepers hired private security forces to beat the crap out of the drunks and druggies and tell them to move along. At what point does this happen again? Booze and drugs always eventually lead to violence and lawlessness unless they’re controlled. And Seattle seems like a town out of control right now.

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