HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show West Virginia continuing to lead the nation in drug overdose deaths points toward the importance of the Quick Response Team in Huntington, officials said.

The team was created to become active in every overdose incident in the city. The collaborative effort involves health professionals, social workers, and law enforcement all working proactively in hopes of keeping people from overdosing or at least stopping them from doing it repeatedly.

The program was envisioned after the infamous day in 2016 when emergency personnel were overwhelmed by overdose calls in a single shift.

“When we had the overdose day with over 25 overdoses in a three or four hour period, none of those people received any treatment options,” said Connie Priddy, coordinator of the Quick Response Team. “They were ‘Narcanned’, they went to the hospital, and they left without anyone contacting them and we realized there is a huge gap.”

According to those CDC numbers, West Virginia had 52 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents last year. Cabell County had the most in the state with 133 deaths.

The Quick Response Team program is funded by a three-year grant to the city. Priddy said by trying to offer assistance they can help those who are in the vicious overdose cycle and grip of addiction to break out.

“Within 72 hours of a person overdosing, in which they required medical intervention, we want to have a collaborative group go out and visit the person who overdosed,” Priddy said. “We recognize there are going to be barriers to that and they may not be at the address they have listed, but we at least return to where the overdose occurred.”

It’s not uncommon for emergency personnel in Huntington and Cabell County to respond to an overdose, administer the opiate blocking medicine and literally bring victims back from the dead. But two hours later, the same person will be overdosing again and emergency personnel will be back at their side starting the cycle again.

“Our goal is to offer them support, intervention and give them treatment options,” Priddy suggested. “Really the bigger goal is to develop a rapport with them and just let them know there’s somebody out there who cares. It may not solve all the problems, but at this point we’ll try anything that helps.”

State Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said Wednesday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” that overdose numbers would go down if more people addicted to drugs would seek treatment. He said national numbers from the Substance Abuse Administration are telling.

“Ninety-three percent of people who are using illicit drugs and needed treatment did not feel that they needed treatment,” Gupta said. “They think they can’t afford the cost or they don’t know where to go for treatment or may think it will have a negative side effect or the community is not helping them–all kinds of reasons.”

Gupta said about a third of those who refuse to get treatment admit they aren’t ready to stop using illicit drugs.

“We’ve got work to do to understand the problem better but also to rev up the treatment abilities as well as reduce stigma,” Gupta said.

The legislature created the state Office of Drug Control Policy earlier this year. The state’s official response to the opioid epidemic is expected to be before lawmakers sometime in February.

Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.

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