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Rader discusses opioid crisis on NBC


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — More than one-quarter of the Huntington Fire Department’s time is spent on overdose calls, but during NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd on Sunday, Fire Chief Jan Rader said she sees hope in the countless number of citizens battling a substance abuse disorder who have successfully completed long-term recovery.

Huntington Fire Chief Jan Vader appears on NBC’s “Meet the Press’ with Chuck Todd Sunday.
(Photo courtesy of NBC)

Rader had been asked to appear on the program to talk about her appearance in Netflix’s “Heroin(e)” documentary, created by filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, but she used the moment to explain the opioid epidemic crisis to a nationwide audience.

Rader said in order to help fight the epidemic she would need an unlimited amount of naloxone, medically assisted detox programs and more long-term treatment beds.

“Heroin(e)” follows three Huntington women fighting the opioid crisis. It was spotlighted after President Donald Trump declared Thursday the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency.

The documentary was announced Oct. 19 as an official selection at the inaugural Meet the Press Film Festival in collaboration with the American Film Institute. The festival, which will take place Nov. 13 in Washington, D.C., will feature 16 short-length political documentaries produced by filmmakers nationwide.

In about five minutes on air Sunday, Rader shared several statistics when asked what a day is like in the life of a firefighter in a city that is averaging 5.3 overdoses a day.

“It usually starts out slow, which is nice,” she said. “But 26 percent of the time my guys get a call and climb on a fire truck, they are going to an overdose.”

Ten percent of those calls result in death and 50 percent of the calls involve parents with children in their lives or watching the overdose occur, Rader said. Less than 9 percent of Huntington firefighters’ time is spent fighting fires.

“It’s a very negative experience for everybody involved,” she said, later adding she could not remember the last time Huntington went a single day without an overdose call.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, people who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. Rader estimated 8 in 10 of those with a substance abuse disorder in Huntington started with a legal prescription for an opiate and are just trying to avoid the repercussions of stopping the use of heroin.

“Now once they are addicted, they are trying not to be dope sick, and being dope sick is like the flu times 10,” she said. “There is excessive vomiting, diarrhea, spike in fever and they have severe abdominal cramping. That’s what they are trying to prevent.”

Rader said substance abuse disorders have no boundaries such as age, sex, race or wealth. In 2015, Huntington’s youngest overdose was 12 and its oldest 78.

When asked what gives her hope, Rader pointed to those in the city who are successful in their recovery.

“We have plenty of people in our town that are in long-term recovery,” she said. “They are healthy, happy, taxpaying citizens, and it has worked. People have recovered, and we need to focus on the positives we are experiencing daily.”

“Some people say that. I don’t see it that way,” she said. “You have to be alive to get into long-term treatment. If I have to Narcan you multiple times, that’s what we need to do.”

She added she was happy to learn Walgreens is now selling naloxone nasal spray without prescription.

McMillion and the three women featured in the documentary – Rader, Family Court Judge Patricia Keller and local real estate agent and volunteer Necia Freeman – will travel to Chicago for a two-day summit hosted by the Obama Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, Tuesday, Oct. 31, and Wednesday, Nov. 1.

During the inaugural summit, hundreds of leaders are expected to exchange ideas, explore solutions to common problems, and experience civic art, technology and music from around the world.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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