EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSEfforts To Curb Prescription Drugs Causing Spike In Heroin
from Eyewitness News Online
Reported by: Taisha Walker
Web Producer: Jeff Morris
Reported: Oct. 8, 2013 2:10 PM EDT
Updated: Oct. 9, 2013 9:24 AM EDT
Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia
West Virginia ranks highest in the nation for the number of people who die from prescription drug overdoses. With new laws making prescription drugs harder to come by illegally, first responders are finding a disturbing trend on the streets.
"The problem we have with meth is about equal to what we have with heroin," said Lt.. Eric Johnson with the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team.
Johnson said heroin is making a resurgence on West Virginia streets.The state's effort to crack down on the prescription drug epidemic could be seen by some as a driving factor.
"There's been a lot of legislation that has made the availability of prescriptions more difficult to obtain and as a result, heroin is taking its place because prescription drugs are nothing but pharmaceutical heroin," Johnson said.
Paramedic firefighters in Kanawha County are also seeing that spike but in the form of heroin overdoses.
"It comes in as a seizure, and it usually goes downhill fairly quickly," said Capt. Scott Harper with Station 8 of the Charleston Fire Department.
Harper said a lot of the calls his Orchard Manor station receives comes in within 100 feet of the fire station. He said the problem has gotten so out of hand, it is hard for first responders to keep Narcan -- a heroin reversal drug -- in stock.
Paramedic firefighter Matthew Lively with Station 8 said there are times "we have to use as much of the reversal medication that we have on the truck, we have to restock frequently throughout the day."
The first responders said the number of heroin-related overdoses varies shift to shift, sometimes six calls can come in on a given day. While the reversal drug works most of the time, that is not always the case.
A report released Monday by the Trust for America's Health found West Virginia ranks highest in the nation for the number of people who die from prescription drug overdoses. Twenty-eight out of 100,000 West Virginians died of prescription drug overdoses in 2010, six times higher than it was a decade ago.
Harper said most of the time "we caught ours before they completely went out but some we had to resuscitate or (use) CPR to try to get their heart started back. But a lot of them they swear that's the last time they'll do it but we see the same guy two or three times, but he says the same thing every time we run him."
The new study links the alarming trend to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, which costs the country $53.4 billion annually. Johnson said the purity of drugs such as heroin also contributes to the state's spike in overdose-related deaths. That's because heroin is more pure and is not being mixed with as many drugs as it was in the past.
"If you are using heroin that was only 25 percent pure, it took you X amount to get a particular high. Now suddenly, you purchased 80 percent pure heroin and you use the same amount then you are going to have four times more of the amount and that's resulting in the overdose in our area," Johnson said.
The national study also found prescription drug-related deaths have surpassed heroin and cocaine deaths combined, as well as motor vehicle-related deaths.
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