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Cuyahoga County reports largest number of overdose deaths in one day, medical examiner says

A rapid response fentanyl test strip sits on top of an open green packet.
Mary Fecteau
Ideastream Public Media
A rapid response fentanyl test strip sits on top of an open green packet.

More people have died of suspected drug overdoses after the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office this week released a warning after nine people died in one day.

It was the largest number of fatal overdoses the county has ever registered in a single day, according to the county medical examiner's office.

The office said if overdoses in Cuyahoga County keep at the current pace, the county is projected to have 780 drug overdose deaths by the end of the year.

This week's spike is likely attributable to fentanyl, but results are still pending, said Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson.

"In light of the recent alert, this is discouraging," he said. "Naloxone and fentanyl test strips are still meaningful harm reduction strategies."

Cuyahoga County is expected to have more fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths than when deaths peaks in 2017.
Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner
Cuyahoga County is expected to have more fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths than when deaths peaks in 2017.

Gilson said people who are actively using or recovering from addiction should create a personal harm reduction plan, which includes having Naloxone and fentanyl test strips ready, not using drugs alone and sitting upright, which can reduce the chances an airway will become blocked during an overdose.

An organizer with the Cleveland-area harm reduction group Thrive for Change Ashley Rosser said people who use opioids often hear about overdose spikes like this when there’s a big police drug bust.

“When we lost our main drug supplier that put us into more risky situations because we don't stop having that need, we're going to go somewhere else," she said. "It's really dangerous to do because you don't know that person.”

Rosser said people should have better access to safer ways to use drugs.

“Even when we're trying to get help, it's like there's so much stigma and shame involved with it and people can't be honest about what they need," she said.

Information on how to test your drugs is available here. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is available through Project Dawn at MetroHealth.

If you suspect someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately and administer Naloxone. The Good Samaritan law provides immunity for minor drug offenses for the person calling and the person overdosing.

The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 216-623-6888.  

The county medical examiner alerted the public last month after five people died of suspected overdoses in a 12-hour period. In that instance, fentanyl was also a drug detected in a majority, if not all, of the overdoses, the medical examiner's office said.

Fentanyl has been straining Northeast Ohioans who use drugs and their loved ones since around 2015 after it was discovered as a cheap alternative to opioids and heroin and took hold nationwide, local EMS said.

Ohio State University researchers estimate thousands of Ohioans became addicted to opioids and many died in the 2010s, after drug companies pushed out and doctors overprescribed the addictive painkillers. 

Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP), or visit findtreatment.gov

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.