Naloxone Vending Machine Comes to Key Center Library

It is one of several free distribution points in the county for the potentially lifesaving drug anyone can possess and administer to stop an opioid overdose.


Thanks to a partnership between the Pierce County Rural Library District and the Tacoma Needle Exchange, naloxone (also called Narcan) is available for free at the Key Center Library to assist anyone in danger of an opioid overdose on the Key Peninsula.

The two-pack nasal spray naloxone kits are kept in a vending machine like those used to sell newspapers, making a small footprint in the library, together with instructions for its safe use and on finding additional resources.

“The library system priority is to align with and strengthen connections in the community,” said Jessica Widner, supervising librarian at the Key Center Branch.

The library staff received training on the drug from the Tacoma Needle Exchange staff June 13, upon installation of the vending machine. Tacoma Needle Exchange paid for the machines and is responsible for monitoring, restocking, and maintaining them. The Tacoma Public Library has had vending machines for some time.

Needle Exchange Executive Director Paul LaKosky and Director of Operations Stephanie Prohaska presented the information to the staff. LaKosky said, “The kits are here at the direct request from the community,” following a meeting in spring 2023 at KP Community Services for opioid awareness hosted by the Elevate Health organization. “We’ve been trying to get the kits out there ever since that meeting,” he said.

The only purpose of naloxone is to help an overdosing person keep breathing, allowing time for other emergency measures. It doesn’t require a prescription, and anyone can possess and administer it. Most first responders carry it.

“If a person has the means to save a life and does not use that means and chooses not to, it says more about that person,” LaKosky said. “Every person who overdoses, who needs our help to survive, is someone’s father, mother, or child, or friend. We carry naloxone because we care about our community.”

According to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, opioid-related overdose is the most common cause of accidental death in the county, surpassing both traffic accidents and firearm deaths. There were 240 overdose deaths in the county in 2021, the most recent year with complete data according to TPCHD. Overdose deaths in Washington are growing fastest among people ages 18-24.

Pierce County EMS opioid overdoses from May 2020 to November 2023. Yellow: possible overdose. Green: opioid impression. Orange: naloxone response. Blue: total records
Pierce County EMS opioid overdoses from May 2020 to November 2023. Yellow: possible overdose. Green: opioid impression. Orange: naloxone response. …
Pierce County EMS opioid overdoses from May 2020 to November 2023. Yellow: possible overdose. Green: opioid impression. Orange: naloxone response. Blue: total records. Tacoma Pierce County Health Department

Naloxone is the generic name for a drug approved in 1971 to reverse opioid overdoses under the brand name Narcan. There are other products now, but many people continue to call them all Narcan. It is effective against any type of opioid: heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine. It has no effect on other drugs.

Signs of opioid poisoning include gurgling, gasping, blue lips or fingertips, loss of consciousness, pale or gray skin, and slow or no breathing. Anyone trying to help with an overdose situation should first call 911 and then follow instructions for using the naloxone kit.

Mary Getchell, marketing and communications director for the Pierce County Library System, said this is a pilot project. There are three locations slated for naloxone vending machines. In addition to Key Center, Eatonville and Parkland will be part of the project.

Placing naloxone vending machines in libraries is a good way to assist with harm reduction, she said. “Anecdotally, it is friends and family of individuals picking up the packs for user emergency. Someone who is close to them, to have something on hand.”

Libraries are public spaces, open to all, with lots of foot traffic, where all people are welcome; they are neutral ground for those seeking help, Getchell said. On the Key Peninsula, as well as in Eatonville, emergency services and hospital care are out of quick reach for most, and the availability of a lifesaving remedy for opioid users could help many families avoid tragedy.

The partnership is reaching out to community entities to inform them of the new service.

The Key Peninsula Fire Department was dispatched to 21 overdoses from January to mid-June, though not all were opioid-related according to Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit.

“My hope is that there are resources present (at the vending machine) to show people when, where, and how to use it and resources on how to get help,” she said. “Narcan isn’t a fix. It’s a Band-Aid. There are still needs to be addressed to get people healthy.”