CLEVELAND — Preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control estimates between October 2019 and October 2020, more than 91,000 people died of an overdose. That’s the highest number in a 12-month period since tracking began in 1999.
The first three months of 2021 in Cuyahoga County show an uptick in the number of overdose deaths.
“It’s sad, it’s very sad,” said Sara Szelagowski, founder of Project White Butterfly. She started the organization in 2019.
“It was a summer we experienced a lot of deaths in the recovery community, we were going to a lot of funerals,” said Szelagowski. That included the funeral of her brother-in-law, who died from an overdose.
“When he passed away there was a butterfly that flew around our family all day that day, and that’s where we got butterfly from,” she explained.
Szelagowski and a few friends started leaving handwritten notes with resource numbers in areas where they knew people used drugs.
The organization has grown since then. Now, Szelagowski and her team go into neighborhoods with naloxone and fentanyl testing strips.
They also work to educate the community.
Just last week, while in Euclid, she was surprised by some people who stopped.
“They didn’t know they were able to carry Narcan, they thought it was something only for doctors. They didn’t know fentanyl was in drugs across the board,” she explained.
On Wednesday, volunteers with Project White Butterfly set up in front of the I Fix Ugly Barber Shop at the corner of Saratoga and State in Cleveland.
The owner, Tim Gillespie, said he believes the work being done at his doorstep saves lives. Passing out the Narcan is very important, he said.
“It’s so bad, it can happen in public right in front of you and it can save a life,” said Gillespie.
That’s why Szelagowski encourages everyone to take the free Narcan, even if you don’t know anyone addicted opioids.
Szelagowski herself was once hooked on heroin. Now clean almost six years, she understands what it’s like to be addicted and wants to help, for her it is a labor of love.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.