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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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Sous chef’s heroism highlights drug problem in Aberdeen


ABERDEEN — Imagine heading out of work momentarily to check on your vehicle and then seeing someone writhing on the ground in need of serious medical attention.

It’s just you, the person in need of help and another person who is freaked out and then leaves in a hurry after realizing they cannot help. No police, no fire, no ambulance nearby because they don’t yet know about the situation. You are the only one who could help him avoid death.

What would you do?

During the early afternoon of Aug. 2, Cedar Martin, sous chef at Aberdeen’s Rediviva, chose to help save a man who was lying on the sidewalk near the sun sculpture at the corner of South I and East Wishkah streets. The man’s life was in Martin’s hands as traffic buzzed by.

It’s not Martin’s job, but he did it anyway.

Andy Bickar, Rediviva’s owner and executive chef, provided a few thoughts on Martin’s rescue.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Bickar said. “He called me when I was heading into work. He was pretty shaken up by it.”

Bickar didn’t sound surprised Martin would help the way he did.

“That’s the kind of guy Cedar is,” Bickar said. “He’s really caring and he’ll put himself forward for somebody who needs it. That guy was lucky (Cedar) was there or he probably wouldn’t have made it.”

Martin explained what happened.

“I went out there to check on my truck,” Martin said. “I look on the corner and right there was a guy laying on the ground. He was flopping around like a fish. The other guy was trying to help but he had no clue what he was doing.”

Martin said the guy wanted to give the victim some water, but Martin knew that wouldn’t help save the man.

“I had seen what was going on, the guy was trying to shake him up,” Martin said from inside Rediviva after the incident outside. “I just came in here, grabbed a phone and just called an ambulance. And then I went out there and I was on 911 with dispatch. She was like ‘you’ll need to give him CPR.’”

While the other man didn’t know CPR, Martin did know the lifesaving procedure. He had learned it in the Boy Scouts and then through other jobs he’s had throughout the years since then.

“At least there was another Samaritan, a lady. I just gave her the phone, our house phone while I was doing CPR,” Martin said. “And then the cops came and the paramedics came. So that was it.”

According to Aberdeen Police Cmdr. Steve Timmons, Aberdeen Fire Department’s emergency medical technicians were at the scene in less two minutes.

“AFD was dispatched for a reported overdose at I Street and East Wishkah,” said Dave Swinhart, a battalion chief for AFD.

Martin said he saw foil and pipes near the man he helped.

“It was pretty clear what was going on,” Martin said. “I assumed it was probably fentanyl, I would ‘guesstimate.’ I don’t know. Whatever you smoke off of foil.”

Martin’s estimation doesn’t sound as though it’s far off because fentanyl is one of the drugs local authorities are seeing more of during overdose calls.

Swinhart said fentanyl is one of the drugs his firefighters have seen increase in overdose cases throughout the city.

“Fentanyl and carfentanyl are what we’re being told what’s being found related to this increase in overdose,” Swinhart said. “Carfentanyl is even more potent than fentanyl. It’s used for medicating or anesthetizing larger animals like elephants and rhinoceroses. It’s as much as 100 times stronger than fentanyl. And the half-life of it is almost eight hours. It’s something that has no basis being used for humans.”

Swinhart pointed out carfentanyl is also 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

While it’s unclear what the overdosing man took that led to the incident — he refused treatment — it’s a good bet it was one of those two drugs. That said, heroin, meth and other hard drugs are also associated with foil.

“It’s been far worse this year,” Swinhart said about drug overdose deaths. “It is something we track.”

According to APD statistics on overdose deaths, which are backed by research from Grays Harbor County Coroner George Kelley, the numbers point to a troubling trend.

Between Jan. 1 and mid-to-late-July, APD responded to 133 overdose calls.

“This is a 60% increase compared to this time last year,” Timmons said Friday. “There has been a total of 226 overdose calls so far this year county-wide.”

Compare those numbers to the last few years:

  • In 2022 APD officers responded to 114 overdose calls — 234 were county-wide
  • In 2021, APD responded to 78 overdose calls — there were 151 county-wide
  • In 2020, APD responded to 66 overdose calls — there were 125 county-wide
  • In 2019, APD responded to 80 overdose calls — there were 161 county-wide

Timmons detailed where the calls have come from throughout Aberdeen.

Most calls — 87, or approximately 65% of calls — have come from the downtown area, which covers from F Street to Division Street. 19 calls — approximately 14% — have come from East Aberdeen, which is east of F street. 17 calls — or nearly 13% — have come from south of the Chehalis River Bridge. 10 calls — about 7.5% of calls — have come from west of Division Street to Myrtle Street, which is Aberdeen’s border with Hoquiam.

The current overdose death count — county-wide — is at about 40, according to statistics Timmons shared Tuesday.

There could be more such deaths, according to Timmons.

“There are some deaths that are still outstanding that have not been confirmed yet, but believed most likely drug-related deaths pending toxicology reports,” Timmons said.

While Timmons said it’s hard to tell without the toxicology reports, he did provide an informed estimation based on observation.

“I would assume just because of what we’re seeing it’s probably fentanyl,” Timmons said. “I don’t have the toxicology reports, that’s something the coroner would have, but I think with the increase of fentanyl use I would suspect that’s probably the main source of the cause of these overdoses.”

While NARCAN, the naloxone nasal spray that can help treat narcotic overdose, helps, the carfentanyl makes it less effective.

“It can take longer and higher doses of NARCAN to reverse the effects of fentanyl and carfentanyl,” Swinhart said. “We can see that with the treatment of patients requiring more NARCAN in order to regain consciousness.”

As far as who is overdosing it’s not just the homeless, a large group of individuals who has been blamed for the drug use throughout Aberdeen.

Timmons said there are a lot of calls where APD responds to someone on the street or in an alley, but to solely point the finger at the homeless population is an incorrect assumption.

“It can be anybody,” Timmons said. “These drugs are dangerous. It can be anybody. Drugs have been here and it’s not just (the homeless), it’s everybody. It can be anybody. It’s not specifically one group of people.”

The overdose death count in Aberdeen is also lower than outside the city because it’s much easier to give expedient help since APD and AFD are much closer proximity.

And the problems Aberdeen faces are not just seen in Aberdeen.

“It’s not only here,” Timmons said. “I don’t want people to think it’s that bad. It’s not like it’s all occurring solely in Aberdeen. It’s happening all across the state. It’s everywhere.”

While Bickar congratulated Martin for his heroism, he pointed out the shock he expressed to Martin when Martin described the incident. Bickar also pointed out how Martin shouldn’t have to jump into action like that.

“I was coming just over the bridge from Hoquiam and was like ‘I’m heading in,’” Bickar said. “He’s like ‘I need a minute.’”

Bickar said he asked Martin what happened. Martin told him about giving CPR to the man out in front of the building and how the man overdosed.

“It’s pretty impressive to do that and then just go back to work,” Bickar said. “But a guy shouldn’t have to do that. He’s just doing his job on a Wednesday.”

While this is hopefully the lone time a member of Bickar’s staff has to step in the way Martin did, it’s not the first time Bickar or anyone else has had to call the authorities about activity outside.

“I’ve gotta call the cops every week to deal with vagrancy and theft issues,” Bickar said. “We had a couple thousand dollars worth of tools stolen. And then we call them every week for vagrancy issues. We really can’t do anything more on our end other than just kind of live with it and try to do business. It’s really, really hard sometimes.”

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