Chicago Department of Public Health and Chicago Public Library Expand Overdose Prevention Program Citywide

December 5, 2022

All Chicago Public Library locations now offer residents access to free lifesaving harm-reduction tools

Anna Dolezal

CHICAGO – The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Chicago Public Library (CPL) have collaborated to make Narcan nasal spray available free of charge at all 81 CPL locations throughout the city in an expansion of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.

Narcan nasal spray is a medicine that can be used in emergencies to prevent fatal overdose, but it can be expensive and challenging to access. By making this medication freely available in public libraries, CDPH and CPL are lowering barriers to crucial harm reduction tools in every community area in the city.

Overdose is one of the leading causes of the 10-year life expectancy gap between Black and white Chicagoans, a gap that widened during the pandemic. In 2021, more than 1,420 people died of an opioid overdose in Chicago, the highest number ever recorded in the city. Each year, more Chicagoans die from opioid-related overdose than homicides and traffic crash fatalities combined.

“The opioid epidemic is a national crisis that has affected more Chicagoans in the last year than ever before,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “We must work together to lower barriers to life-saving resources like Narcan and access to effective treatment in all of our communities.”

CDPH and CPL piloted distribution of harm reduction kits in local libraries beginning in January, starting in libraries in communities with the highest numbers of opioid overdoses. Since then, CDPH has distributed over 2,000 Narcan kits and trained over 300 library staff on overdose prevention.

“As one of the world’s largest library systems with 81 locations, Chicago Public Library is proud to be a leader in redefining what public libraries can bring to the communities we serve,” said CPL Commissioner Chris Brown. “With locations in communities all across the city, we are a community hub, and we aim to provide a wide range of resources to residents. Being responsive and inclusive of community needs is part of CPL’s mission of advancing equity throughout Chicago.”

Narcan access at public libraries is one of the many ways that CDPH is increasing access to lifesaving harm reduction tools citywide. CDPH has distributed more than 80,000 fentanyl test strips to organizations and individuals in Chicago, making the program one of the largest in the country. These strips allow people who use drugs to test for fentanyl in their substances, helping them to make informed decisions to prevent overdose. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and can be mixed into illicit drugs without users’ knowledge, leading to increased risk of overdose.

In 2020, fentanyl was involved in 86 percent of opioid related overdose deaths in Chicago, a 65 percent increase over 2019.

CDPH has trained more than 300 librarians, at least one at every branch, on opioid overdose prevention and how to use Narcan. The Narcan is available in small boxes on the wall at each library. Anyone can take Narcan from the box, no questions asked. However – if you do have questions, ask your local librarian. In addition to library branches, CDPH has worked with several aldermanic offices to train their staff to provide Narcan and fentanyl test kits for public access. Narcan and fentanyl test strips are available at all CDPH mental health and STI clinics as well. A complete list of locations where Narcan is available to residents free of charge is available here. CDPH has also been working to expand treatment and recovery services for substance use disorder. In partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (IDHS SUPR) it launched the MAR NOW (medication assisted recovery now) program in May 2022. Anyone in Illinois can call the IL Helpline for Opioids at 833-234-6343 and be connected immediately to same-day opioid use disorder treatment through MAR NOW. The program provides transportation to the clinic or pharmacy, and services everyone 7 days a week, regardless of insurance status, income or ability to pay.

For questions about CDPH’s Narcan distribution program or to obtain Narcan or fentanyl test strips, contact the Office of Substance Use at:


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