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Cabell’s 2017 overdose totals already surpass 2016 record


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — Cabell County has set a single-year record for overdoses with 129 days left in 2017.

As of Thursday, 1,250 overdoses had been reported in the county since Jan. 1, surpassing 2016’s full-year total of 1,217 overdoses, the record for a single year prior to this week.

Cabell County has averaged 5.3 overdoses per day in 2017 and is on pace for approximately 1,934 overdoses by the end of the year, likely doubling 2015’s then-record overdose total of more than 900, and more than seven times the 2014 total of 272 overdoses. At the 2017 pace, overdoses exceed the 2014 totals approximately every eight weeks.

Even at such an early date in the year, the announcement did not come as a shock to Gordon Merry, Cabell County EMS director, who predicted 2018’s overdose numbers will only be higher.

“Truly, this county has done very minimal mitigation to stop it,” Merry said. “All we’re doing (is) giving Narcan. These people are sick. They need rehab, and until we end the cycle, we’re going to continue to see (overdose totals) going up.

“Without intervention, the numbers will continue to rise.”

West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the nation.

While he said little has been accomplished at the state and federal levels in curtailing the opioid epidemic, Merry praised agencies within Cabell County for “trying everything within their power to change the outcome.” Included in those efforts are promoting more widespread use of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan among first responders and the public, and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program, which includes a needle exchange.

“This is not unique to Huntington or Cabell County,” Merry said. “This is across the United States.

“We’re not the heroin capital of the United States. We’re just more aggressive in dealing with it.”

Overdose totals are counted when paramedic-patient contact is made, Merry said, meaning the true number of overdoses is likely higher. Cabell County EMS does not track fatal overdose numbers.

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