For officials in one West Virginia city, Monday was a harsh reminder of the damage heroin can cause to a community.
In Huntington, located along the Ohio River in the western portion of the state, 26 heroin overdoses were reported in just a four-hour period on Aug. 15.
The heroin was laced with a strong substance, but officials aren’t exactly sure what it was, Gordon Merry, the Cabell County EMS director, told reporters.
“Just to give you an idea, when the first few came in, three ambulances were already out dealing with overdoses,” Merry said, according to CBS News. The overdoses took place around one apartment complex in Huntington. The calls overwhelmed EMS responders.
For about 30 minutes, there were no ambulances available in Cabell County due to the rash of overdoses, EMS assistant supervisor David McClure said.
Eight of the people who overdosed were revived using naloxone, known commercially as Narcan. Others were were resurrected via a manual resuscitator called a bag valve that’s used to simulate breathing, CBS reported.
“As a public health problem, this is an epidemic of monumental proportions,” Dr. Michael Kilkenny, director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, told CBS. “We really must stop the demand side of the equation. We must attack the issue of addiction.”
Merry said it sometimes took more than one Narcan dose.
“I know it will be too late when this is printed,” Merry said, “but if you have heroin please see what is going on and don’t use it. It could be your last time. People aren’t familiar with what it is cut with and right now we don’t know what it’s been cut with,” according to the Herald-Dispatch newspaper.
There is a possibility the drug added to the batch of heroin is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to help prevent pain during surgery or is given to cancer patients to treat pain. Across the United States, officials are seeing it being used to “cut” heroin.
It’s been estimated that fentanyl, the drug singer Prince reportedly overdosed on, is about 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than pure heroine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2014, West Virginia led the U.S. in deaths by overdose, with 36 for 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.