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In-Depth: Northeast Ohio mother issues warning after Cuyahoga County reports surge in drug deaths

Experts report addiction isn't only cause
In-Depth: N.E. Ohio mother issues warning after Cuyahoga Co. reports surge in drug deaths
In-Depth: N.E. Ohio mother issues warning after Cuyahoga Co. reports surge in drug deaths
Posted at 10:10 PM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 13:38:11-04

CLEVELAND — Cathy Lawley of Willoughby Hills said her life changed forever after losing her son, 31-year-old Michael Biellow to drugs on March 23, 2020.

Lawley issued a warning to all parents, after Cuyahoga County reported a surge in drug deaths, urging them to sit down and talk to their children or loved ones about the dangers of seeking a quick high.

“We’ve now entered a paradigm shift, this no longer heroin overdoses, and I want to stress that," Lawley said.

“He was unknowingly given fentanyl and carfentanil, fentanyl is an elephant tranquilizer.”

“Your children may be going out because they have an addiction issue, but they may also just be at a party with other people and talking about how they can get high one time.”

“These are not overdoses, these are children who think they’re going to get high on something, and they’re not getting high on something, they’re dying.”

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson issued a public health alert on April 6, stating that Cuyahoga County has suffered at least 69 suspected overdose deaths in the month of March.

Gilson told News 5 if deaths continue at this pace, Cuyahoga County could again see over 700 overdose deaths. The last time Cuyahoga County suffered over 700 deaths was in 2017. Additionally, 13 overdose deaths have occurred in the first five days of April.

Local agencies like the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County, and the MetroHealth System Office of Opioid Safety said the alarming spike in drug-related deaths have them urging families to seek resources.

Beth Zietlow-DeJesus, ADAMHS Board Director of External Affairs told News 5 families should keep watch for the signs of drug use and addiction.

“These aren’t statistics, these are human beings, these are brothers, sisters, parents, children," Zietlow-DeJesus said. “When there is a cluster, like we see right now, it just tears us apart."

“The person living with a substance use disorder has a chronic brain illness, they need medical treatment, counseling, and care to get better.”

“Look for secretive behaviors, being very defensive, irritable, and angry.”

Kelly Cioletti, Social Work Coordinator with the MetroHealth System Office of Opioid Safety, told News 5 outreach is available, along with its Enrollment Outreach Unit, posted on West 25th Street in Cleveland, across from the MetroHealth Outpatient Pavilion. Cioletti said free Narcan kits and Fentanyl test strips are available Monday through Friday through its Project DAWN program.

“We are available, literally 24/7," Cioletti said. “You don’t need an I.D., you don’t need to be using, you can be a family member or a friend."

“It used to be everybody thought this was an inner-city drug, and it’s just not anymore.”

“It is alarming, it’s scary, you feel for the families that are dealing with this, and are unfortunately having to bury a loved one.”

Meanwhile, Lawley has helped to form "APALD," which stands for Association of People Against Lethal Drugs. Lawley said the organization will hold a rally for change on June 4, in 30 cities across the county, spreading awareness and advocating for legislative change in the war against synthetic drugs, that the CDC reported killed 81,000 in 2020.

Lawley said she doing all she can in honor of her son, as a way to help families save their loved ones.

"I would tell him that I love you more than you’ll ever know, and I hold you in my heart every single day, and I’m being your voice," Lawley said.

“I know he would want me to keep going, and keep trying, and just not shut up until my voice is heard."