When I spoke last year with Chief Jan Rader of the Huntington, West Virginia, Fire Department, she was realistic about the circumstances her department faced with the growing opioid crisis. At that time, data showed that West Virginia had the highest per capita rate of opioid addiction in the United States, and more than 41 overdose deaths per 100,000 population.
Huntington, a city of about 50,000, was at the center of this crisis. Call volume between 2016 and 2017 had risen more than 10 percent, mostly due to medical response to overdoses. In 2017, there were at least 132 overdose deaths in Huntington and the surrounding county, an area with a total population of only about 100,000. With limited resources to address the problem, department members – from firefighters to the chief – were understandably discouraged and exhausted.