Home » Opioid Battle Continues: West Virginia City Grapples with ‘Fourth Wave’ of Overdoses

Opioid Battle Continues: West Virginia City Grapples with ‘Fourth Wave’ of Overdoses

by Richard A Reagan

In the heart of West Virginia, the city of Huntington has become emblematic of America’s ongoing battle against opioid addiction. [Source]

Once overrun with over 81 million painkiller pills between 2006 and 2014, this city, home to roughly 46,000 souls, has endured the brunt of what many are calling the “fourth wave” of an overdose crisis. [Source]

A deadly cocktail of fentanyl, other synthetic opioids, and stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine marks this wave.

The opioid crisis in Huntington is not just a series of statistics but a narrative of resilience and community strength.

From the collective trauma of the 1970 plane crash that claimed 75 lives at the local Marshall University to the darkest day of August 15, 2016, when 28 individuals overdosed in mere hours, Huntington’s history is marked by tragedy yet underscored by unity.

Michael Kilkenny, chief executive of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, captures the gravity of the situation, recalling the “shocking realization” in 2015 that drug overdose was the third-leading cause of death in the county, trailing only behind heart disease and cancer.

The evolution of the crisis from prescription opioids to heroin and now to fentanyl and its analogs represents a shifting battleground in the fight against drug abuse.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin, has become an ever-present threat, often mixed with other dangerous substances like carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer, and xylazine, a veterinary sedative causing severe skin ulcers among IV drug users.

Connie Priddy, an emergency medical services nurse, reflects on the relentless struggle against this epidemic, emphasizing the initial relief felt after successfully reviving all 28 individuals from the 2016 mass overdose event. “We saved all 28 people Our EMS crews did a wonderful job,” she said.

However, Connie was disappointed to find out that none of the survivors had been directed toward addiction resources or treatment.

In response to this crisis, Huntington has pioneered innovative approaches to drug addiction and overdose prevention. The establishment of the Quick Response Team in 2017, a unit comprising peer recovery coaches, paramedics, police officers, and faith leaders, represents a significant step towards addressing the epidemic.

This team engages with overdose survivors and those at risk, offering support and referrals to treatment services. Their efforts have contributed to a notable 40% reduction in ambulance calls for overdoses and a decrease in overdose deaths from a peak of 202 in 2017 to 135 in the year leading up to June 2023.

Despite these advances, the difficulty of the drug crisis, characterized by the mixing of opioids with stimulants, presents new challenges.

Robin Pollini, a substance misuse and infectious disease epidemiologist, explains the prevalence of polydrug use among those battling addiction. The integration of stimulants into the drug mix not only complicates withdrawal treatment but also heightens the risk of infectious diseases through increased syringe sharing.

The political scene further complicates the response to the opioid crisis. Legislative hurdles and restrictions on harm reduction initiatives, such as syringe exchange programs, undermine efforts to address the epidemic comprehensively.

Priddy expresses frustration with the political opposition to evidence-based strategies, stressing the importance of deferring to expert recommendations in combating the crisis.

The city’s proactive measures, community resilience, and dedication to innovative solutions offer valuable lessons in addressing a public health crisis that continues to evolve.

You may also like

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com