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Cabell OD totals down 40% through nine months

October 3, 2018

A woman is loaded into an ambulance in Huntington after an opioid overdose. Local health officials noticed a decline in previously stagnant overdose rates for September.

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County is on pace to finish the year with 672 fewer non-fatal overdoses than in 2017, according to the latest figures from Cabell County EMS.

Through the first three quarters of 2018, overdose reports have dropped nearly 41 percent compared with the same time frame last year.

Totals dipped sharply to 85 overdose reports in September, according to Cabell EMS, breaking a four-month plateau over the summer during which monthly totals remained stagnant at 112 in May, 101 in June, 106 in July and 113 in August.

“I truly don’t know if this trend (from September) will continue, but compared to our expectations at the beginning of the year, we’re very excited,” said Connie Priddy, Cabell EMS compliance officer. “This is pretty significant that we’re going to decline like this.”

The July-August-September third quarter of 2018 saw 40 percent fewer overdoses (304) than the third quarter of 2017 (506), which was the county’s worst on record.

The county still averages about three overdose calls per day.

Should the current pace hold through the final three months, Cabell County is expected to record 1,159 overdoses in 2018. By comparison to past years, the county had 1,831 overdoses in 2017, 1,217 in 2016 and 480 in 2015.

Though experts have not attributed one defined cause of the decline, which was first noticed by Cabell EMS crews in September 2017, it’s likely the product of a few factors, Priddy said. They include increased public availability of naloxone and a general sense of awareness to the matter.

But chief among the factors is the cooperation between the city’s players toward a common goal in reducing and reversing addiction, she continued.

These include the county’s Quick Response Team, launched in December to personally visit each overdose victim and refer them to treatment, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program, the Huntington Police Department’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, the local faith community and Marshall University’s growing addiction-related initiatives.

“I’ve had people from all over the country reach out to ask what we’re doing in Huntington,” Priddy said. “It’s the collaboration between agencies, governments and organizations that have really bought into the greater good.

“I think that’s made a difference, and once things start to get better, people start to see what can be better in their city.”

That change in perspective is particularly evident in the EMS crews that tend to each of the hundreds of overdose reports, Priddy said. As the “forgotten piece of the puzzle,” crews are visibly more enthusiastic about the extensive role they play, especially in their personal contact with each overdose patient and referring them to the county’s Quick Response Team, which then can organize treatment a few days later.

“Their attitude and language have changed, and I don’t think anyone realized how much influence they have and the recognition they deserve,” Priddy said.

Preliminary data indicate more than 220 people died of a drug overdose in Cabell County in 2017, according to the Cabell-Huntington Health Department — a number that is likely to increase as more cases are processed. Fatal overdose totals, which are kept by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, have not been finalized for 2017.

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