Overdoses Are Common
Medical Examiner Recounts Incidents
BY AMY WITSCHEY, Editor
POSTED: January 27, 2010
Wetzel County Medical Examiner Carla McBee has seen far too many deaths from overdoses in Wetzel County.
In her position as medical examiner for both Wetzel and Tyler counties, Carla McBee sees things most people do not and hope they never do. She sees death; it is part of the position she has had for over 10 years.
However grim that job may seem, it has become more disturbing in the past few years as the number of deaths from drug overdoses is on the rise.
"In 2007 our state was as bad as any state, or worse, with drug related deaths, and it has certainly increased since then," said McBee. "It is a good probability that we lead the nation in death from drugs at this time."
In 2009 Wetzel County had four deaths to heroin, four to oxycodone, and one death that included six drugs in the person's system.
It didn't occur this year, but Wetzel County even had a suicide from a Prozac overdose. It was only the fourth death of its kind in the United States.
Thankfully not all drug overdoses end in death. Also director of the Wetzel County Ambulance Authority, McBee knows all too well of the emergency actions taken because of drug usage.
Last year Wetzel County Emergency Medical Services had five drug overdoses in April, one in June, one in July, one in September, and two in October. "Those were the calls that the abuser was unresponsive and on their way to death when we administered the drug called narcon or naloxone that counteracts the deadly drug abused," explained McBee. "This does not include the calls when we don't give this antidote to the alert patient. We know they have taken drugs, but they are not unresponsive yet. We have paramedics here at WCEAA who have been around for 25 years and they have not seen the amount of drug abuse and death this alarming."
McBee said Wetzel County emergency crews probably get six calls per month for drug overdoses. Sometimes the calls come in as for a general illness, but once responders arrive at the scene they become aware that drugs were involved. That is when they immediately begin asking questions.
One of those cases stands out in McBee's memory. "The strangest thing is we got called to this house. . . a beautiful house," she said. When the crew arrived the patient's parents were standing, calmly at the front door.
"They said, 'Our daughter is upstairs and she is sick.' We go upstairs and she's blue. I mean she's near death with drugs," recounts McBee.
When interviewing the parents and asking if there could be drugs involved, trying to get enough information to administer the right treatment, they said their daughter didn't take drugs, but she had a friend who is a bad influence.
McBee was incredulous at hearing that answer. "Blame won't dispel drugs from our homes, schools, and communities," she emphasized.
She believes that patient was 16 and while McBee knows the patient lived, she wonders how her brain fared from the ordeal.
Sometimes she does get to know the outcome from a patient she treats. One day she got a knock at her home's door and it was an overdose patient she had treated.
In that case the man had been unresponsive all night long on Oxycontin and Xanax. "I thought there was no way he could make it," said McBee. But the she administered the correct counteractive drug and he started coming out of it.
"It's something when they can walk up to you and say, 'I'm alive. Thanks for saving me,'" said McBee.
The patient had seen a picture of him in the drugged state and said the ordeal had turned his life around. "Of course he said he wasn't ever going to do it again," said McBee. While she hopes that is true, she has seen too many times when the addict cannot kick his habit because he has become dependent on it. She believes they don't want to use drugs again, but often pull is just too strong to resist. "Wanting won't cure drug abuse. It's just too powerful," said McBee.
McBee believes most drug users get into the addiction by saying they're going to try it one time. What they don't realize is just how addictive the drugs can be. "I think kids don't understand. They think they can try it just to fit in," she said.
"I don't understand what is so bad," said McBee of the desperation that may lead young people to use drugs. She believes it might have something to do with the instant gratification that today's youth are accustomed to experiencing.
She has seen so many people young people near death numerous times. "It happens all the time," said McBee. "It's ugly out there."
She also serves as the medical examiner in Tyler County and says the usage seems to be just as high there.
In Wetzel County she said October and the beginning of November seemed to be the worst times for drug overdoses, and it appeared to calm down in December. She doesn't know if that change for the better can be attributed to a renewed interest in the Citizens Against Prescription Drug Abuse group, family activities, or that students were not spending as much time together when school was not in session.
"It may have been a little bit of all of it," said McBee.
Whatever the reason, the trend is positive. The CAPDA group meets next on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend and get informed about drug abuse in the local area and do their part to help curb its proliferation.