The date of August 15, 2016, marks a low point for Huntington. On that day, 28 people overdosed on heroin that was mixed with the powerful opioids fentanyl and carfentanil. Two people died.
The story went national and came to epitomize the depth of the opioid epidemic. It also served as a catalyst for officials in Huntington and Cabell County, who were already battling the drug problem, to bring a laser-like focus on solutions.
A year and a half later the community can point to some success.
–Overdoses dropped 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 compared with the same period the year before.
–The most improvement has come in the last seven months, as overdoses have dropped by half from the previous seven months.
–The use of NARCAN to revive addicts who have overdosed declined 50 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the first quarter of 2017. Violent crime has dropped 10 percent during the same period.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is hardly ready to declare victory in the war on drugs, but he’s hopeful “Everything that we are doing is putting pressure in every direction,” he said on Talkline Monday. “We feel that we are on the right track.”
One of the biggest reasons for the success may be found in the new Quick Response Teams or QRTs. These are teams made up of law enforcement, healthcare and treatment professionals who personally visit individuals within 72 hours of their overdose to encourage them to get help.
“When we go in and talk to someone about trying to receive some help and go into treatment, more often than not, there’s somebody else that’s there that’s saying, ‘Can I go too?’” Williams told me.
The QRTs have only been operating since last December, but they’re already having an impact. So far, about one-third of the addicts the QRTs have visited have entered treatment.
One of the keys to dealing with the opioid crisis is finding out what works and repeating it in other communities. Huntington’s QRT is modeled after one in Cincinnati. Just last week the State Department of Health and Human Resources awarded a grant of $263,000 to Prestera Center to establish a QRT program in the Kanawha Valley.
Williams is encouraged by the significant progress in his community. “We’ve won some battles. We’re a long way from winning the war, but these trends are going in the right direction.”
Caution is advised here. One of the reasons Huntington’s overdose numbers are improving is that they were at epidemic levels. However, the community’s commitment to attacking the drug problem on multiple fronts is beginning to pay off.