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U.S. overdose deaths reach milestone, while Northeast Ohio closes in on shattering record

More than 30 states reporting increases in opioid overdoses amid pandemic
Posted at 5:36 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 19:06:03-05

CLEVELAND — A public health crisis capturing a lot of attention prior to the pandemic is making major headlines again.

The number of Americans who have died from a drug overdose in a one-year period has now reached six figures.

There have been more than 100,000 deaths nationwide between April of 2020 and April of 2021.

In Ohio, almost 5,600 overdose deaths happened during that time, up nearly 1,200 from the year before.

Elissa Garland, who had dreams of being a nurse, is listed among the more than 100,000 Americans who died during that timeframe.

"The overdose was April 26, 2020," said Elizabeth Metheney.

News 5 first introduced you to the Norton woman's family in February.

Her mom Elizabeth said prior to her death, the 26-year-old. who just had a baby, had been sober for a long time.

"She was having to go for random drug testing,” said Metheney.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

"With the pandemic, they quit doing that for a while," said Metheney.

Health experts say drug users left socially isolated, unable to get treatment and support is one of the top drivers in the surge of overdose deaths.

"She knew that she wasn't going, that there was no possibility of her getting drug tested for a while," said Metheney.

Another major contributing factor – a more dangerous drug supply on the streets.

"Fentanyl is really driving this new surge," said Dan Flannery, professor at Case Western Reserve University.

As we've been reporting, this new data confirms many people who overdosed were unknowingly ingesting fentanyl, which dealers are mixing with other drugs like meth and cocaine.

"I would encourage anybody who's in this situation to access fentanyl test strips that are available so that you can test whatever it is you might be using," said Flannery.

Nationwide, the pandemic, along with these more potent drugs, led to a 30% spike in overdose deaths in the 12 months of preliminary data just released.

Here in Ohio, cases are up more than 26% year-over-year.

"We're not one of the top two or three states in terms of increase from last year, but we're certainly in the top 10," said Flannery.

With the pandemic lingering, so does the perfect storm for those like Elissa Garland, who struggled with addiction.

"With the stress of the pandemic and just having the baby, she was a new mom, it was just too much for her," said Metheney.

Taking a closer look at Cuyahoga County, we are currently projected to reach or exceed the number of overdose deaths we saw in 2017, which, for now, remains the highest on record.

That year, 727 people died.

In the meantime, the staff on the front lines at Stella Maris in Cleveland told News 5 that the ongoing stress from the pandemic, as well as people being exposed to substances their bodies are not used to, will continue to drive up overdose deaths in the county.

"Unfortunately, we're hearing about people that are not just dying who are in active use, but long-term people in stable recovery that are relapsing and overdosing and dying because of the stressors associated with the pandemic," said Daniel Lettenberger-Klein, Stella Maris CEO.

In the U.S., drug overdose deaths now surpass those from car crashes, guns, the flu and pneumonia.