Berkeley County overdose calls at all-time high

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley County Central Dispatch received 503 overdose calls from January through the end of June.

Kevin Knowles, community recovery services coordinator for Berkeley County, spoke at the Berkeley County Council meeting Thursday about his efforts to be part of the solution of the area’s drug epidemic.

For the month of June, the county had 149 overdose calls to which 168 units were dispatched.

“There was a jump in OD calls from the prior months, which was more than the months of January and February combined,” Knowles said.

“We are looking at about three times the amount of calls from March to June,” said Doug Copenhaver, president of the Berkeley County Council.

Knowles said of the 503 calls from January to June, 959 units responded.

“We wanted to put a cost to those numbers and an average cost per call is $1,200. And that is based on 911 operators, the units and personnel that goes out, what is administered, if anything, and whether or not they are transported to the hospital. So that is the average; some are higher some are lower but that’s approximately how much it costs per call,” Knowles said.

According to Knowles, that number doesn’t include the costs of people who receive treatment at the hospital.

“We do not have the cost from when a person is in the hospital, but that cost on the county side of it affects everyone individually with insurance,” Knowles said.

Based on the volume of overdose calls in June alone, the total cost was approximately $178,800, according to Knowles.

“That’s a jump from the $116,400 from the month of May,” Knowles said.

On average approximately three units respond per call; someone from the city police or sheriff’s department, from the fire department and from EMS, Knowles said.

“Some cases may require more units than others depending on what it is and what type of call it is,” he Knowles.

The total costs associated with 911 overdose calls in the county from January through June is $603,600.

Copenhaver said that the county’s ambulance authority has now issued a 24/7 unit in order to keep up with all the calls they are receiving.

“They worked 12 hours a day and now they are 24 hours a day because their volume has gone up 10 percent,” Copenhaver said.

“If you take 10 percent of their budget, that is around $400,000 being spent for just the ambulance authority alone,” he added.

“That’s a huge hit in half of a year,” Knowles said. “You’re not going to get rid of the overdose calls, but we will do whatever we can do to reduce that costs and utilize that funding somewhere else.”

Knowles spoke to the council about several ways he has started to open dialogue in the community about the heroin epidemic, as well as future ways he believes the county can help reduce costs and save more lives.

Recently, Knowles helped orchestrate a townhall meeting with help from 1-844-HELP-4-WV, a 24-hour, seven days a week helpline for those battling with addiction. He said the meeting was a great opportunity for the community to hear first-hand about local resources for addicts and their families.

During the council meeting, Knowles received approval from the board to move forward with his idea to utilize the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority as a way to advertise resources for those battling addiction.

Knowles introduced two different advertisements that will have a number for those who need help to call. He said the EPTA offered him the space to use.

Elaine Bartoldson, deputy director for the EPTA, said the organization wanted to help out and be part of the efforts. Knowles said this is just one of the many ways to help get the word out there and that he plans on finding more organizations who want to help advertise.

Knowles also spoke about the possibility for a Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program that helps to direct non-violent criminals to the right path instead of jail time. He said this initiative would also directly help to ease costs associated with jail time in the county.

Knowles said that Huntington is using the program and is seeing great results.

According to Knowles a LEAD program would allow an officer to ticket someone who is intoxicated or under the influence, instead of throwing them in jail. He said the officers could then lead the individuals to places like the Berkeley County Day Report Center (BCDRC) or a treatment program where they can receive help.

Knowles said that jail time doesn’t help these type of non-violent offenders and if there is no intervention they will go right back to doing what they did before once they are out of jail.

“This is an officer’s way to use discretionary authority for low-level criminal activity,” he added.

Knowles said he is planning a meeting with Martinsburg’s chief of police and Berkeley County’s sheriff, as well as with the director of the BCDRC, to talk about this initiative and how it could change the county for the better.

Staff Writer Katiann Marshall can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 182 or twitter.com/kmarshallJN.

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