The state of West Virginia is no stranger to the throes of the opioid epidemic, in fact, it’s had a high opioid overdose rate for years. According to the CDC, it’s got the highest opioid overdose rate in the nation by far. The city of Huntington has an overdose rate more than three times higher still. In late August, the county experienced a massive surge in overdoses. Within a range of 4 to 5 hours, officials had discovered 26 overdoses, almost all of them in Huntington. The county ran out of ambulances to send with 30 minutes, and they ferried people back and forth for hours.
It’s thought that of a new batch of heroin is responsible, either very potent or contaminated with lethal additives. The county EMS director believes it was laced heroin, although they haven’t determined what type of substance was used. Many of the calls were to one area, so the cases seem to have a connection. Another two people died that day from overdoses. Fortunately, almost everyone survived, because of the opioid overdose reversal drug, Naloxone. County officials – police, ambulance, and fire crews – all carry it. The governor signed a bill expanding access to the antidote after seeing a surge in drug abuse. The county EMS director said eight people were revived with Naloxone, including one person who needed three doses to not die. The other victims were revived with manual resuscitation methods such as bag valve masks.
In recent years drug abuse reached epidemic levels, becoming one of the top three causes of death in Huntington. The city has struggled to get overdoses and drug-related deaths under control, implementing needle exchange programs and other anti-drug efforts. Opioid overdose deaths have dropped as a result, but they still remain unnervingly high. The county has seen over 400 opioid overdoses in the past six months. West Virginia is in a dangerous spot and no one knows which way the tide will turn yet.