Officials in Huntington, West Virginia are warning the public about the dangers of heroin abuse after emergency workers responded to 26 separate cases of overdose in a span of just four hours on Monday, Aug. 15.
Gordon Merry, emergency medical services (EMS) director for Cabell County, reported that the victims had used a type of heroin that was laced with a particularly strong substance, which authorities have yet to identify.
Eight of the users were revived using naloxone, a drug capable of reversing the overdosing effects of opioids, while the rest were revived using a manual resuscitator known as a bag valve mask to help with their breathing. One of the victims had to be given three doses of naloxone to be revived.
Merry said many of the overdose cases occurred in an area around an apartment complex in Huntington. This leads them to believe that the outbreak may be linked to each other. He said that emergency responders were overwhelmed by the number of calls they received on Monday.
"Just to give you an idea, when the first few came in, three ambulances were already out dealing with overdoses," Merry said.
David McClure, assistant EMS supervisor for Cabell County, said they ran out of available ambulances to send out for about half an hour because of the sudden rush of overdose cases.
So far, there have been about 440 cases of overdose in Huntington since the start of the year involving different kinds of drugs.
Emergency workers responded to 39 overdose cases in Cabell County for the entirety of August 2015.
Threat Of Drug Overdose
In 2014, West Virginia had the highest number of drug poisoning deaths in the United States. Health officials recorded as many as 36 overdose deaths for every 100,000 residents in the state.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this figure is well beyond those recorded for New Mexico, the state with the second-highest number of drug poisoning deaths (28 deaths for every 100,000) and more than double the number of deaths for the entire country (15 deaths for every 100,000).
Cabell-Huntington Health Department Director Dr. Michael Kilkenny said that West Virginia's problem with heroin overdose is "an epidemic of monumental proportions."
He pointed out that authorities have to attack the issue of addiction by stopping the demand for illegal drugs to stem the growing problem.
Huntington officials are reportedly worried that the particularly potent version of heroin that led to the recent outbreak could make its way to the capital city of Charleston.