HUNTINGTON - Around 3:30 p.m. Monday, reports of overdoses started pouring into Cabell County 911 Dispatch. By 9 p.m., 26 overdoses had been reported, more than Cabell County EMS responds to in a week.
Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry said all the victims had been revived using naloxone; however, the heroin they had used was laced with a substance so strong, it sometimes took more than one dose of the opioid overdose-reversing drug to revive them.
"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."
Most of the overdoses occurred in an area surrounding Marcum Terrace, leading officials to believe the cases were connected.
Dan Corn, Huntington resident who lives near where four of the first reported overdoses took place on Sycamore Street, said it was a sad thing to see.
"Our country is going downhill fast," he said. "All because of drugs."
Merry said the amount of calls overwhelmed EMS and police.
"Just to give you an idea, when the first few came in, three ambulances were already out dealing with overdoses," he said.
The overdose rate in Huntington had remained steady as the city hit the half-year point in June. The number of deaths from overdose, however, had fallen from 35 last year to 26 this year, a 25 percent reduction - something officials said is encouraging.
"What we are seeing around the country is overdose deaths are going up, with the rise of fentanyl and others," said Jim Johnson, director of the Huntington Mayor's Office of Drug Control Policy, in July. "It's not good that our overdose rate is holding, but compared to others having real increases, it's encouraging. And we are extremely happy the death rate is down."
Fentanyl is an opioid used as part of anesthesia to help prevent pain after surgery or other medical procedure. Across the country, officials are seeing it being used to "cut" heroin, which means adding other substances to give pure heroin more weight. Fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than morphine.
Officials are also seeing even more deadly drugs being used to cut heroin, including carfentanil, an elephant sedative that is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, reports the Associated Press.
The drug has been suspected in overdoses or found in seized drugs in Ohio, central Kentucky and in Florida's Tampa Bay and Sarasota areas. Akron, Ohio, authorities saw over 230 overdoses in July, 20 of them fatal, and police said evidence of carfentanil was found in some of those. Huntington has had 440 overdoses as of July.
Carfentanil is similar to another drug called W-18, which has been found in heroin in Philadelphia and New England.
As of Monday, it was too early to tell what the heroin the victims were using had been cut with.
Any person looking for help with substance abuse and addiction can contact the state hotline 24 hours a day at 1-844-435-7498, or visit www.help4wv.com.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter @TaylorStuckHD.