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26 heroin overdoses over four hours overwhelm West Virginia county

By
Allen Cone
A potent batch of heroin led to 26 heroin overdoses over four hours Monday in Huntington, W.Va., stretching emergency medical resources in Cabell County. Screen shot from WSAZ
A potent batch of heroin led to 26 heroin overdoses over four hours Monday in Huntington, W.Va., stretching emergency medical resources in Cabell County. Screen shot from WSAZ

HUNTINGTON, W.Va., Aug. 17 (UPI) -- An especially dangerous batch of heroin hit the streets of Huntington, W.Va., as 26 overdoses were reported within a four-hour period.

The cases stretched the emergency medical resources in Cabell County on Monday.

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"It truly taxed us to the very end," Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry said at a news conference Tuesday.

For a half-hour, no ambulances were available in the county to send to emergencies, county EMS assistant supervisor David McClure said.

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Police say a batch of heroin was laced with something extra potent. But they are not sure what it is.

"We know through informant information that when something like this hits the streets, it draws like flies to sugar," Chief Joe Ciccarelli said. "It is something that is sought out."

Crews administered 10 doses of Narcan, including three to one person. Others were treated with a manual resuscitator to stimulate breathing.

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"Of the 26 people who OD'd yesterday, with the exception of one who's on a ventilator at St. Mary's, the other 25 are shooting up again today," Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said.

Merry is happy there were no deaths.

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"If we're proud of anything it's that we didn't lose one life," Merry said. "There was a son, there was a daughter, there was a mother, a father, that didn't die yesterday."

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Hospital waiting rooms were swamped.

"You basically divide and conquer," Dr. Clay Young at Cabell Huntington Hospital, which treated eight patients with overdoses, said to WSAZ. "We have at least two doctors on at all times and we have staff enough that we can take care of, prioritize and triage the sickest patients to be seen first. Somebody that has a less emergent problem is going to be stuck waiting, but a heart attack or a stroke is going to get priority one treatment."

At St. Mary's Medical Center, 12 overdoses were handled.

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Jim Johnson, the city's director of the Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy, has been alarmed by the rising use of heroin.

"We've been preaching this for the last year," Johnson said. "It's prevention, it's treatment, and it's law enforcement. It's all three."

Most of the overdoses were in one apartment complex.

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"Our country is going downhill fast," Huntington resident Dan Corn told the Herald-Dispatch. "All because of drugs."

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Cabell County responded to 39 overdose calls during the entire month of August in 2015.

Officials said fentanyl, an opioid used as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after medical procedures, is used to "cut" heroin -- adding other substances to give pure heroin more weight.

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Fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than morphine.

Officers with the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team say it's possible the strong batch of heroin makes its way into cities along Interstate 64 and then across the nation.

"Huntington is a source city for Charleston so it very well could end up in this area," Lt. Eric Johnson, commander of MDENT told WOWK.

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