WSAZ Investigates: A Startling Heroin Overdose Trend in Cabell County

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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- WSAZ is tracking an alarming trend in Cabell County.

Law enforcement and emergency medical officials said there's been a spike in deadly heroin overdoses.

In just the first half of this month, Cabell County EMS reports 41 overdoses.

Out of those overdoses, nine people have died.

We dug for more information into the cases and found astounding numbers.

WSAZ obtained overdose response records from Cabell County EMS Friday.

Since November 2013, we counted 459 overdose calls.

The EMS director said many of Cabell County's overdoses are in Huntington.

We took a closer look at 2015, and it appears this year is not off to a good start.

Not even a full month into 2015, Cabell County first responders are looking into an alarming trend that could affect anyone.

"What child, whose child, whose mother, whose father is going to die tonight from that overdose," said Office of Drug Control Policy Director Jim Johnson.

Officials said overdose calls linked to heroin are flooding 911 centers.

The overdoses are also raising concerns that a new batch of heroin could be circulating Huntington and killing people.

"When you look at the pace we're on, to think we'll lose over a hundred people at this rate, it's a concern," Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli said.

The numbers since January 1 are adding up.

Cabell County EMS reports 41 overdoses since the start of the year and 12 of them in the last three days.

"Is it too potent of heroin? Or is it cut with something that's causing it? It could be either one," Johnson said.

Ciccarelli said nine people have died at the hands of heroin and there could be even more -- just unreported.

"We know that anywhere from 40 to 50 overdose calls are being handled by Cabell County EMS every month," Ciccarelli said.

The same time last year, EMS records show about 22 overdoses, meaning this year the number nearly doubled.

"It's very, very heartbreaking, when a child comes out of a bathroom out of a gas station, and says, 'My mommy's on the floor, she won't talk to me,' and we go in and there's a needle in her arm and her two kids are with her," Cabell County EMS Director Gordon Merry said.

Merry said his team is one of many feeling the squeeze of a growing epidemic.

"It takes a lot of time for us to deal with these, where we could be dealing with other emergencies," Merry said.

But the problem isn't just dealers.

Ciccarelli said the issue also comes down to users.

"We're going to the same people two and three and four times," he said.

Ciccarelli said the mayor, police department and other agencies are working on a plan to streamline their efforts and save addicts from their own deaths.

"We've all heard the terms, functioning alcoholics, we have functioning heroin addicts," Johnson told WSAZ.

City leaders said this trend is exactly why they are being proactive to a situation where there just isn't time to wait to react.

Ciccarelli said they continue to investigate overdose cases because, in some of them, there could be criminal activity involved.

He said they will work to bring felony murder charges against anyone who plays a role in deadly overdoses.

Huntington Police said they faced a similar problem with black tar heroin in the mid-2000s.

They said heavy enforcement helped stop that pipeline.

Johnson said there's a correlating trend when it comes to heroin use.

He said there's also a growing hepatitis problem.

The Office of Drug Control Policy reports West Virginia is one of the highest states in the nation for growing hepatitis B and C cases.

The Centers for Disease Control show the Mountain State with cases of hepatitis B increasing by 36 percent between 2007 and 2011 and hepatitis C cases growing by 150 percent in that same time frame.

City leaders said they believe those numbers are still on the rise.

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