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Cuyahoga Stats Show Heroin Overdoses Are Down, But Fentanyl Deaths Are Up

Thomas Gilson

Cuyahoga County has released statistics for 2015 on drug-related deaths, and the numbers show a new trend toward a drug that’s 80 times more powerful than morphine.

The statistics show that overdose deaths from the drug fentanyl nearly tripled, but heroin overdoses dropped about 8 percent last year – the first drop in five years.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson says, as far as he is aware, the pill form of fentanyl showed up on the county’s streets last month.

“What we’ve seen is that, not only do we see fentanyl in pill form, but this fentanyl is being sold as a look-alike for oxycodone.  These two drugs are both abused by the same population.

"But fentanyl -- as we've tried to stress over and over again -- is a far more lethal drug.  Fentanyl is beyond heroin; it's beyond morphine; it's beyond oxycodone.

Gilson adds that 19 people died from fentanyl overdoses last month, and when the final numbers are in, January could be the deadliest month in Cuyahoga County history for overdose deaths.

That was also the first month that fentanyl deaths and heroin deaths were nearly equal.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.