POINT PLEASANT — This past Friday night, people in Mason County were bracing for what felt like a possible overdose epidemic within a matter of hours, similar to the one that occurred in Huntington, last year.
For Mason County EMS staff, there were 14 unresponsive/possible overdose calls into the Mason County 911 Center between 1:45 p.m. and 6 p.m., that night, according to EMS Director Dylan Handley.
Handley said, though it wasn’t confirmed all those 14 calls were overdoses, there were definitely 14 of the unresponsive/possible overdose calls crews were dispatched on within less than 4.5 hours. He said these unresponsive calls were coming from across the county, including five in Henderson, as well as calls in Point Pleasant, Gallipolis Ferry, Leon and Ashton.
Handley said six patients were transported to Pleasant Valley Hospital for treatment, four were given the opioid reversal drug Narcan. Some other patients refused treatment or left the scene before EMS arrived.
The calls were coming so quickly that it tied up EMS resources to the point Gallia County EMS had to assist with a medical emergency call in Mason County. Jackson County EMS assisted with the unresponsive call in the Leon area.
Friday evening, the Mason County Emergency Management Agency sounded an alert into the community via its social media page, saying a possible “bad batch” of heroin had hit the streets. The EMA post asked those who may know someone using the drug to stop them, or call for help. This public service announcement seemed to help because shortly after the post, the calls to 911 stopped that day.
Handley guessed EMS had been dispatched on 20 of those unresponsive/possible overdose calls in the last week, alone, adding he felt those numbers were comparable to statistics seen in a larger city like Huntington.
The Mason County Commission recently voted to initiate a lawsuit against some pharmaceutical drug companies which they believe have exacerbated the opioid addition issue in Mason County. Retaining the Chafin Law Firm of Williamson, Attorney Letitia Neese Chafin, for the firm, told commissioners, based on statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, from 2007-12, Mason County ranked 9th out of 55 counties for the number of pills per person. She said in this same time frame, the DEA reported various distributors shipped over 8.6 million pills in to Mason County alone, and that didn’t count what some residents may’ve brought in from other counties. This equated to 300 pills per every man, woman and child, in the county, based on 2010 census numbers, Chafin said.
EMS has been struggling for funding in the last couple of years and now, it may be struggling to find money to maintain the supply of Narcan which has gone from $14 a vial three years ago to, $45. Currently, EMS has that cost covered through a grant from PVH and Cabell Huntington Hospital, but that grant is about to expire, Handley said.
As for tying up EMS resources with those unresponsive calls, Handley said, EMS personnel have a duty to act and personal feelings don’t apply when it comes to calls they run.
“Drugs do bad things to good people and it isn’t our job to judge, it’s our job to take care of people,” Handley said.
None of the calls reported to EMS resulted in deaths, according to Handley.
“We got to everyone in time,” he said.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.