Colorado Library Meth Epidemic

Within months, Englewood Public Library in Colorado has had to temporarily close its doors for the second time to address a meth contamination. This came weeks after another public library in the Boulder, Colorado area closed due to a similar contamination. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that can lead to addiction and overdose. Over the past years, many public spaces such as libraries have seen an alarming increase in public drug use. This is especially disturbing because it can potentially expose curious young children to drug usage and paraphernalia. It has become a public health crisis.

What is Methamphetamine?

Crystal meth is a synthetic stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It increases the dopamine release in the brain making users feel an intense rush of euphoria and highly energetic. Meth can be consumed in a variety of methods including smoking, pill form, snorting or injection. The method of consumption dictates the results and effects of meth on the person.

A spoon of crystal meth particles is lying on a dark surface next to a lighter and syringe possibly from the Colorado Library Meth contaminated location.

Meth offers a long-lasting rush of euphoria and is cheaper than most other drugs. This mind-altering substance can become highly addictive and is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S.

Meth addiction can cause both behavioral and physical side effects. Some of the most common symptoms include psychosis and paranoia. People on meth can experience auditory, visual and tactile hallucinations. They begin to see and believe things that aren’t reality, causing them intense feelings of paranoia.

Another common sign of meth addiction is constant scratching and picking at the skin. The user’s physical appearance begins to decline as they experience drastic weight loss, tooth decay and skin scarring from meth injection sites. Meth users are also at high risk for contracting infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C.

When it comes to secondhand meth exposure, researchers are still unsure of the health effects. There is not enough research or data to make any scientific conclusions on identifying unhealthy levels of secondhand meth exposure. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people exposed through a secondhand method can test positive for meth.

Colorado Library’s Meth Problem

According to research from a harm reduction action program in Denver, in 2021, meth contributed to an estimated 734 overdose deaths in Colorado. Since then, more people have been dying from meth overdose compared to other substances such as heroin, cocaine, prescription medications or alcohol. Three different Denver area public libraries were forced to close down due to a discovery of drug contamination and comprehensive clean-up efforts. So far, the Colorado library meth problem seems to only be confined to the state.

Boulder Public Library temporarily closed in late December 2022. Englewood Public Library temporarily closed in early January 2023. And Bemis Public Library temporarily closed a few weeks later. All closures were the results of meth contamination.

Under Colorado law, meth contamination limits cannot exceed 0.1 micrograms. When the Englewood Public Library was tested, it resulted in bathroom exhaust vents surpassing levels above state safety standards. Outside of the bathroom, other spaces such as countertop surfaces also tested positive for low levels of meth. Specialized cleaning requires removing tainted walls, ductwork and exhaust fan equipment.

The health risks and long-term side effects of secondhand meth exposure are still unknown. However, meth residue can cause irritation to the eyes and throat and a runny nose. Residue tested from the library contamination also gives no indication of how much meth was exposed or how long the exposure period was. Clean-up efforts are a lengthy and extensive process.

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Colorado Drugs Clean-Up Efforts

In the state of Colorado, there has been an increase in drug contamination in public areas. One company, Crystal Clean Decontamination, has seen a significant increase for services. The Denver based company specializes in meth decontamination. It was normal to travel around the country for work. But for the past few years, the company has not left the state of Colorado due to a consistent need for work in areas such as gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores.

Colorado has strict regulations regarding meth exposure and clean up and can take anywhere from weeks to months. Depending on the assessment of where and how much contamination was found, clean-up can methods can range from washing down an entire property to intricate extensive work. The financial cost can range from 8K-60K.  

How are public spaces like the library addressing growing issues of Meth use?

Many public library staff say they have seen an alarming increase in drug use and drug-related activity surrounding the library. It is only part of a growing trend in using public spaces to get high. Public libraries have become especially vulnerable to drug activity because it is a space open to all people of the community. However, staff are now finding its purpose has slowly changed from a reference and resource for knowledge to a place for privacy and shelter.

In a 2022 study from New York City’s Urban Trauma Library, a survey of library workers found that almost 70% said they dealt with patrons whose behavior was violent, aggressive or intimidating. They also experienced sexual harassment and were threatened with guns, knives and objects being thrown at them. These public workers were ill-prepared and without the knowledge and training for how to respond to these unique situations. This led to burnout.

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Library staff are now becoming front-line responders who are constantly being exposed to issues related to substance addiction and mental health disorders. In response, some public libraries have started developing policies, programs and training for staff and community members on how to approach this sensitive subject.

Response to the growing drug epidemic includes installing safety containers for safe syringe disposal, stocking libraries with naloxone and training staff on how to administer the medication. Libraries have also begun partnering with social workers and educators to help staff understand the overdose crisis. Getting help for the vulnerable populations of drug addicts can be addressed through an experienced behavioral health program.

Hotel California by the Sea offers specialized meth addiction treatments. Inpatient detox and residential services provide medication management and intensive therapies. Many people who experience meth addiction also have co-occurring mental health disorders. At Hotel California by the Sea, these conditions are treated simultaneously. CBT, DBT and EMDR therapy provides intensive retrospectives to help patients overcome every aspect of their addiction. Meth addiction is a continuously growing epidemic that can be successfully treated through a professional substance addiction recovery program.