HUNTINGTON — Cabell County's emergency overdose calls continue to decline halfway through 2019.
The number fell 28% through the first six months of the year (406 total calls) compared with the first six months of 2018 (564 total calls), according to data logged by Cabell County EMS.
The drop is even more dramatic compared with 2017, Cabell County's definitive "crisis year" for overdoses. Through six months in 2019, overdose calls have dropped 57% compared with the same period in 2017 (951 total calls) and nearly identical to the first half of 2016 (403 total calls).
The steady decline so far through 2019 comes as a surprise given the already steep drop in overdoses during 2018, said Connie Priddy, Cabell County EMS compliance officer, who keeps the department's data and also organizes the county's Quick Response Team (QRT).
Cabell County paramedics responded to 40% fewer overdoses in 2018 compared
with 2017, but most did not foresee the decline continuing in 2019 — expecting instead for overdose rates to level off.
"I never thought we'd see a drop comparable to 2018 again," Priddy said in a call Wednesday. "We thought maybe we would see a slight drop — like 5% — but not like this."
If the trend holds, Cabell County is on pace to record 819 overdose calls through 2019, a 24% decline from 2018 (1,089) and a 55% drop compared with the record 1,831 calls taken in 2017.
The past three months of 2019 have, however, seen a sharp increase in overdose calls compared with the first three months. Overdoses rose from a combined 147 in January, February and March to a total 259 in April, May and June, statistics show.
What's caused the recent spike isn't clear, Priddy said. There have been social media rumors floated about a "bad batch" of drugs contributing to overdoses locally, but there has been no evidence of that, she added — and not at all comparable to when more powerful fentanyl was introduced in 2016.
As for the overall decline, the increased household use of naloxone — the overdose reversal drug — is contributing to the decline in emergency overdose calls.
Often simply known by the brand name Narcan, those treated for an overdose with naloxone often do not require further medical treatment. Making the drug available at home for the layperson to administer to an overdose victim naturally would have an effect on limiting calls to 911.
Because of that, judging by a decrease in overdose calls alone does not paint a full picture of substance misuse in the county and overdoses will never be truly eliminated, Priddy added.
Another contributing factor is likely more people being referred to long-term treatment. That's the mission of Cabell County's QRT, which personally visits each overdose victim within 72 hours of the event.
Since its inception in December 2017, the QRT has sought out about 1,300 eligible victims, but successfully made contact with about 650. QRT members visit two given addresses for each: their given home address, and the address where the overdose occurred; but the transient nature of many users makes them hard to track down, Priddy said.
Still, the QRT has referred more than 200 people into formalized treatment in their 16 months since becoming active, she continued.
In a prior interview, Priddy estimated that if each of the people called 911 for an overdose three to four times a year, simply getting those people into recovery could eliminate up to 600 overdose calls per year.
OVERDOSE TOTALS THROUGH FIRST SIX MONTHS, 2016-19
January to June: 403
Year total: 1,217
January to June: 951
Year total: 1,831
January to June: 564
Year total: 1,089
January to June: 406
Year total: TBD (on pace for 818)
Source: Cabell CountyEMS
"I never thought we'd see a drop comparable to 2018 again. We thought maybe we would see a slight drop — like 5% — but not like this."
Cabell County EMS compliance officer