CLEVELAND — Eight people died of suspected overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County on Thursday, the medical examiner said, in another cluster of deaths less than a month after 12 people in the county also died from suspected overdoses over the course of two days.
“Much like a month ago, yesterday’s overdose cluster is very concerning. Again, the public needs to be aware that using street drugs in and around Cuyahoga County is deadly,” Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson said. “Resources are available to lessen the dangers, but the simple fact is there is only one sure way to avoid these tragic ends. Get yourself into treatment before it is too late."
The victims in Thursday’s cluster of deaths range in age from 31 to 60, with most of them residing in Cleveland, according to a news release from the medical examiner’s office.
While still awaiting the results of testing, Gilson said its likely the latest wave of overdose deaths are fueled by the powerful, synthetic opioid fentanyl.
Gilson said the drug is showing up mixed with other streets drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroin.
In some cases, experts believe users have no idea.
"If they're using street drugs, fentanyl can be a big, big surprise for them," said Gilson. "Because we're talking about a drug that is 80 times more potent than morphine, and at least 20 to 25 times more potent than heroin. It's a very unforgiving drug in terms of it doesn't take a lot of it to have really bad consequences, including taking your life."
Cuyahoga County is still projected to suffer more than 700 overdose deaths in 2021, compared to 514 in 2020, 477 in 2019, and 443 in 2018.
To try and combat the rising number of deaths, at Project Dawn's mobile needle exchange program, volunteers now pass out a stronger version of Narcan, the opioid-reversing antidote.
"It's basically double the dosage of the old ones," said Project Coordinator Stephanie Shorts.
She said the organization ordered the stronger doses to keep pace with stronger drugs showing up on the streets.
"It's kind of a free-for-all out there," said Shorts. "Sometimes you just never know what you're going to get."
One woman who said she's currently using drugs called this the scariest time she can remember because of overdoses and dealers peddling stronger drugs on the streets.
"It's not about the money count right now," said the woman who didn't want to be identified. "It's all about the body count to them."
Short-term and long-term intervention is available, as are Naloxone (Narcan) and fentanyl test strips, which will work with most fentanyl analogues, the medical examiner said in the news release.
U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan issued a statement regarding Cuyahoga County's overdose surge.
There are no safe street drugs. Pills that look like oxycontin or percocet are often pressed fentanyl, fentanyl analogues or carfentanil. Similarly, cocaine is not just cocaine, and heroin is not just heroin. What is being bought on the streets is killing our friends and neighbors. We will continue to identify, dismantle and prosecute anyone selling these illegal narcotics. But for those who are using, know that help is available. Please get the help you need.
For information on community walk-in clinics, visit the Project DAWN website here or call 216-778-5677.
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