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Akron sees 140% increase in overdose deaths

Posted at 4:57 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 18:50:15-04

AKRON, Ohio — Cheryl Tona's struggles with drugs and alcohol started at a very young age.

"The first time I used I was in kindergarten. I drank alcohol," Tona said.

As she got older, Tona used marijuana and cocaine. She found recovery in her mid-20's, but in 2016, she had a major setback and took suspected fentanyl with a family member. It ended tragically.

"I used with my cousin who died as a result of that time we used together," she said.

Tona, 47, is extremely troubled by statistics showing a recent dramatic spike in overdose deaths in Akron.

According to the Akron Police Department, there was 60 deadly overdoses in the city from January through April of 2021, compared to 25 during the same time period in 2020. That's an increase of 140%.

Tona struggled to hold back tears as she talked about the rise in the number of people losing their lives due to drugs. She now works as a recovery coach at a sober living apartment operated by Oriana House.

"It makes me really sad because every one of these people matters," she said.

One reason for the uptick could be fewer people seeking treatment.

Leaders of Oriana House-- which offers substance abuse treatment, community corrections programs, and mental health services-- said the number of people coming for detox has been down about 30 to 40% during the pandemic.

"I think it's probably afraid of COVID like people didn't go for other healthcare reasons," said Bernie Rochford, executive vice president for Oriana House.

As a result, Rochford said the agency has turned to other methods to help people struggling with addiction.

"We've tried to do stuff with telehealth so you're creating that distance and making it safe for everybody," he said.

Tona is realizing that many people with addiction issues are struggling with coping skills during the pandemic.

"I feel like the pandemic has caused people to fear more," Tona said.

Akron police pointed to another possible reason for the surge in overdoses-- people knowingly, or unknowingly, mixing dangerous drugs.

"It could be marijuana laced with heroin. It could be some other drug laced with carfentanil, which is obviously more deadly," said Lt. Michael Miller.

Tona said it's important to stress that there is help and hope out there at all times.

"As long as you're breathing in and out one more day, you can be a successful person in recovery."

Summit County Project DAWN (Deaths avoided with Naloxone) provides free naloxone to the community.

Summit County Public Health has distributed 1,615 naloxone kits through the first four months of 2021, compared to 972 kits for the same time period in 2020.

The county reports 699 known reversals, in which lives may have been saved, so far in 2021. There were 275 known reversals through April of 2020.

People struggling with addiction are urged to call the Summit County ADM Crisis Center at 330-996-7730 or the Summit County Addiction Helpline at 330-940-1133.