HUNTINGTON — Non-fatal overdose totals in Cabell County during this summer continued at a relatively flat pace in August, with 113 overdoses reported last month, according to the latest EMS statistics.
That continues a four-month plateau that also includes 112 overdoses in May, 101 in June and 106 in July, numbers that are much lower than a year ago and in contrast to a sharp spike in overdoses last summer, officials said.
Totals have now decreased by 39 percent in the first eight months of 2018 (783) compared with the first eight months of 2017 (1,292).
Less drastic summer totals are particularly indicative of a continuing downward trend, given that the past two summers carried noticeable overdose spikes. The May-August totals for 2018 (432) are 35 percent lower than those four months in 2017 (666), though markedly higher than the summer of 2016 (343).
"In all emergency medicine, we always see increases during the summer," said Connie Priddy, compliance officer for Cabell County EMS, who compiles the county's non-fatal overdose totals. "The fact that we didn't see an increase in overdoses this summer is probably the most significant of any statistic that we're looking at because we were expecting it to spike in the summer."
While the point of resolution still isn't in sight, she added these significant improvements are unlike any seen in the scope of the opioid epidemic.
Cabell County has averaged just over three overdose reports per day through 2018. Should that pace continue, the county will record 1,166 overdoses by the end of the year.
By comparison to past years, the county suffered 1,831 overdoses in 2017, 1,217 in 2016 and 480 in 2015.
Preliminary data has revealed more than 220 people died of a drug overdose in Cabell County in 2017, according to the Cabell-Huntington Health Department - a number that is likely to increase as more cases are processed.
Though last year was the worst on record and a stark increase from the 153 overdose deaths reported in 2016, the 2017 total could have been well over 300 deaths had prevention efforts not been as aggressively applied, said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
"I don't want to dispute or make light in any way of the fact that 2017 was our worst year, but my hope is that 2017 was our worst year," Kilkenny said, with emphasis on "was."
Overdose numbers rose nearly every month since 2014 until skyrocketing after August 2016 - the month of the infamous outbreak of 26 overdoses on Aug. 15 - when fentanyl was introduced into the county's drug supply, Kilkenny said. The worst months on record, for both fatal and non-fatal overdoses, were recorded between then and August 2017, when a record 195 overdoses were reported that month.
While non-fatal overdoses spiked monthly during that time, overdose deaths also increased, but far less drastically, Kilkenny noted. Though state preliminary data has not yet defined the numbers for 2017, the majority of overdose deaths were suffered in the first six months of 2017, followed by a gradual decline in deaths beginning in fall 2017.
"There's a lot of prevention efforts going on at this time," Kilkenny said, pointing particularly to an increased use of naloxone among both first responders and the community at large.
The now wider use of the opioid-reversal drug has helped decrease the likelihood that an overdose in Cabell County would be fatal - from a 1 in 3 chance to now an estimated 1 in 8 chance, according to preliminary data.
"It's another silver lining in a situation that's horrible, but it would have been worse," Kilkenny said.