West Virginia City Hit with 27 Overdoses, 1 Death in 4-Hour Period

By Paul Gaita 08/22/16

All of the overdoses occurred within a mile-and-a-half radius, which suggested to officials that they are all linked to the same batch of heroin.

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West Virginia City Hit with 27 Overdoses, 1 Death in 4-Hour Period

Over the course of a four-hour period on Monday, August 15, the city of Huntington, West Virginia experienced what health officials described as a “catastrophic” wave of 27 heroin overdoses, including one fatality. The city, located in Cabell County in the western part of the state, has already incurred at least 440 overdoses in 2016 alone, 26 of which were fatal. Health officials do not know if the drugs involved in the August 15 overdoses were laced with any other substances, but hopefully the toxicology report will provide some answers. 

The first calls to emergency responders began on Monday afternoon, according to CNN, and quickly overwhelmed the 911 call center and area ambulances. “When the first few [calls] came in, three ambulances were already out dealing with overdoses,” said Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry. “We had tied up seven ambulances within minutes due to overdose calls and still needed more, which we had to get from other parts of the county. It was basically like a mass casualty event.” As Merry noted, there are usually 18 to 20 overdoses in Huntington in a single week. “So this was a huge increase, catastrophic,” he said.

All of the overdoses occurred within a mile-and-a-half radius, which suggested to officials that they are all linked to the same batch of heroin. Overdose victims ranged in age from 20 to 50 years old; eight of them were revived using the opioid reversal drug, naloxone. According to Merry, one victim required three doses of naloxone, which usually means that the heroin was mixed with another, more potent drug.

“It's way too early to tell what the heroin in these latest cases was laced with, but I suspect it was fentanyl and maybe something else,” said Huntington Police Department investigator Scott Lemley. “A majority of the overdoses cases are laced with fentanyl, Xanax or something. It's very rare to find pure heroin these days.”

The overdoses in Huntington—which echo similar mass overdoses in places like Akron, Ohio, which experienced 19 overdoses and one fatality in a 24-hour period in July—add to the already alarming number of drug overdoses and overdose fatalities experienced in West Virginia over the past few years. The state has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. The majority of heroin and fentanyl overdoses occur in Cabell County.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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