Huntington Leaders speak on International Drug Overdose Day

International Overdose Awareness Day was August 31 this year. This day helped to kick off Recovery Month. Started by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Recovery Month exists to “increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use issues and celebrate the people who recover.” Huntington Mayor, Steve Williams, spoke out about Huntington’s drug problems at a press conference at the Prestera Center.

US Attorney General in the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin, Huntington Chief of Police, Joe Ciccarelli and Cabell-Huntington Heath Department Director, Michael Kilkenny, also spoke at the conference.

In August, the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy released a two-year Strategic Plan to get drugs out of Huntington.

“I don’t know if there is a city that is anymore aware of the issues that we have with overdoses than we have in Huntington.”

— Mayor Steve Williams

“I don’t know if there is a city that is anymore aware of the issues that we have with overdoses than we have in Huntington.” Williams said. “We were finding on a day to day basis that there was an epidemic of addiction in our community.”

In Huntington, there have been 474 overdoses in the first six months of the year and 34 of them were fatal. The current rate of fatal overdoses this year is 145 per 100,000, which is 11 times the national average.

“Forty times this year, our detectives have reached out to families to say your loved one isn’t coming home because they perished in an overdose.” Ciccarelli said.

The two-year Strategic Plan consists of three main steps; prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

“But I’m proud to say that our community is stepping forward in compassion and determination to fight this threat.” Williams said.

Eighty percent of kids have not used drugs. The struggles of drug addiction typically start after people are done with school.

“We are going to continue to be laser-focused on prosecuting the drug dealers and the people who bring these drugs in.” Goodwin said. “But we also have to realize that addicts will continue unless they get treatment because opiate addiction is incredibly powerful.”

Overdoses also hurt the community because of the money it takes to help run some of the city’s services that help the drug dependent in good times or bad.

“Every time that there’s an overdose two police officers are dispatched. An EMS squad with two paramedics is dispatched. A fire engine company with four firefighters is dispatched. Often times there is a paramedic supervisor, fire chief and on occasion the police chief.” Ciccarelli said. “That’s a tremendous drain on our public safety resources. That’s even before the patients make it to the emergency room.”

Places like the Prestera Center, where this press conference took place, offer rehabilitation services. Addicts are offered many programs to help them get off their drug addiction.

Matt can be contacted at [email protected]