Emergency medical services scrambled in a West Virginia city after 26 people overdosed on heroin in a span of just four hours. Thanks to a fast response time and an overdose reversal drug, everyone survived.
The first call came in to emergency dispatch at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Huntington after a frantic caller said there were “dead people everywhere in this house,” Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry told The Huffington Post.
Soon after, more calls came flooding in to report the same thing: people lying unconscious, seemingly dead after taking the opioid.
“It was overwhelming for us,” Merry said. “I don’t think anybody has seen something like this.”
Monday’s spike of overdoses likely came from a batch of heroin laced with other harmful chemicals, Merry said. The close proximity of the overdoses led authorities to believe the heroin all came from the same supplier.
Seven ambulances were sent out, but that wasn’t enough, so Merry called in more from outlying cities. Huntington, which averages 20 overdoses a week, was now experiencing more than 20 overdoses in just four hours. The city’s fire and police departments were also sent out to help.
“Within the last 10 years, heroin use has been going up,” Merry said. “Obviously we reached a milestone yesterday.”
Last year, 35 people in Huntington died of an overdose. Twenty-six have died so far this year, according to the Herald-Dispatch.
Merry credits a fast response time to the calls, and the overdose reversal drug naloxone, for saving lives.
The emergency opioid overdose reversal kit, also known as Narcan, can now be sold in West Virginia pharmacies without a prescription. At the beginning of this year, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative announced it was partnering with the drug’s manufacturer to make it available to every U.S. high school free of charge.
“I’m at the point that anything we can do to mitigate loss of life, we’ve got to try,” Merry said of Narcan being sold at pharmacies.
The lifesaving drug, which blocks the opioid receptors that heroin targets, was used 12 times total to treat Monday’s overdoses, Merry said. Others were brought back to consciousness with a bag valve mask, which helps to give victims air after their respiratory system begins to shut down.
“Quite honestly, there should have been deaths in this,” he said.
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