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OD rates in Cabell County remain steady

August 5, 2018

HUNTINGTON - Cabell County’s overdose totals remained steady through July at 106 reported overdoses in the past month, according to records logged by Cabell County EMS.

In June, 101 overdoses were reported, while 112 were counted in May.

The now three-month plateau continues a greater period of declining overdose numbers in Cabell County, where totals have now decreased by 39 percent in the first seven months of 2018 (670) compared with the first seven months of 2017 (1,097).

“It’s obvious we’ve started to make a difference,” said Gordon Merry, director of Cabell County EMS. “The numbers are close and we cannot tell if they’ve plateaued, but we’re on the right track.”

Cabell County has averaged just over three overdose reports per day through 2018. Should that pace continue, the county will record 1,153 overdoses by the end of the year.

By comparison to past years, the county suffered 1,831 overdoses in 2017, 1,217 in 2016 and 480 in 2015.

First responders first noticed a decline in emergency calls in September 2017, when 167 overdoses were reported that month, compared to 195 in August 2017, the highest single-month record. Overdoses gradually became less frequent over the following months: 139 in October, 115 in November, 118 in December, 113 in January, 90 in February (the first sub-100 month since July 2016), 86 in March and 62 in April - the lowest single-month total since January 2016 - before spiking to 112 overdoes in May.

City and county officials have placed more stock in the established declining trend rather than picking at month-by-month totals. July would have closed with 101 overdoses on Monday - the same as the month before - had it had 30 days like June, Merry added.

While there is no defined cause for the most recent increase or the long-term decrease, Merry said, the decline is likely the product of a combination of community efforts from all involved, he added, such as the 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.

“If it was not for the cooperation of everyone for the common goal, I don’t think we’re seeing the reductions we are,” Merry said. “We’re all for the same goal, and if it was not for all of us working together, we’d still be with very high numbers and our death rates would have gone up.”

Contrary to what some in the public have suggested, the decline is not the product of how overdoses are reported, Merry said, adding that EMS has tallied the totals consistently from its own records. Though Huntington police and fire departments no longer respond to basic overdose calls EMS could otherwise reach alone, police and fire overdose reports were never included in EMS’ monthly overdose totals, Merry noted.

He also clarified that totals reflect overdoses that have been confirmed by EMS crews on scene, not simply calls that are dispatched as an overdose. The totals likewise do not overlook emergencies initially dispatched as another emergency, such as cardiac arrest, which crews later determine to be an overdose.

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter @BishopNash.

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