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Charleston Gazette-Mail’s West Virginians of the Year: The men and women battling the opioid epidemic


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When we talk about the opioid epidemic, we always talk about the overdose deaths.

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader understands that. More than 880 West Virginians fatally overdosed on drugs in 2016. Huntington and the rest of Cabell County had more overdose deaths than any other county in the state. Rader can’t remember the last time a day went by without an overdose somewhere in Huntington.

Jan Vader, on of five people working to combat the opioid epidemic chosen as the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s West Virginians of the Year.
(Herald-Dispatch photo by Lori Singer)
But what if we looked at it another way? Rader counts lives saved. Her firefighter/medics have revived more than 1,100 people who overdosed. They administer an overdose-reversing drug called naloxone. People start breathing again.

Medics call those “saves.”

“As first responders, we fail to focus on what we need to be focusing on … on the positive,” said Rader, a 20-year firefighter who rose through the ranks to become the first female fire chief in the state. “We have people in recovery now that we probably [administered naloxone to] at least a dozen times. And they’re productive, taxpaying citizens again. So there is recovery.”

Rader is one of thousands of West Virginians staring down the opioid crisis. They are firefighters, police officers, social workers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, counselors, emergency room workers, psychologists, detoxification center employees, public health officers, people in recovery, and families who’ve lost loved ones to addiction and now provide comfort and a helping hand to others. They’re all working to combat the opioid epidemic.

And they are the Gazette-Mail’s West Virginians of the Year for 2017.

Today, we are profiling five of those dedicated to the fight, but we wish to honor everyone on the front lines of the deadliest drug crisis in state history.

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