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Cuyahoga County, CMHA installing 'Naloxboxes' to help fight opioid overdoses

Posted at 5:13 PM, May 25, 2023

CLEVELAND — For years, we've been telling you how big of a problem drug overdoses have become. But just how bad are things right here?

According to the Cuyahoga County Overdose Dashboard, the number of deadly overdoses peaked in 2017 at 727. The number started decreasing until 2021, when numbers spiked again with 675 deaths.

County officials are trying to address the problem in a big way, and a partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority has the potential to save lives among the agency's 55,000 residents.

CMHA residents now have another life-saving tool at their disposal. Each "Naloxbox" contain two doses of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and they're being installed in dozens of CMHA's 60 properties.

"To date, we've installed a little over 100 boxes," says Sharhonda Greer, director of Multi-Family and Conventional Affordable Housing, CMHA.

News 5 Anchor Courtney Gousman visited CMHA's Cedar Extension Highrise building, where the boxes were recently placed right above the fire extinguishers on every floor. The installations come thanks to a partnership between the housing agency, MetroHealth, The ADAMHS Board, and Thrive.

"We do have those instances where people have overdosed, and we do have people who need assistance," said the Director of Resident Services for CMHA, Kristie Groves.

The newly formed partnership continues a project that launched in 2021 to install 600 Nalox Boxes across Cuyahoga County. Leaders within MetroHealth's Office of Opioid Safety said CMHA properties are slated to receive about half of the boxes that will be installed countywide.

"It'll be 300 or more boxes eventually. The original proposal was looking at 31 buildings throughout the CMHA properties," said Rebecca Mason from MetroHealth's Office of Opioid Safety.

We wanted to know how it was determined which buildings within CMHA would receive those boxes. Beth Zietlow-DeJesus, director of External Affairs from The ADAMHS Board, said, "We looked at overdoses, fatal and non-fatal overdoses at properties. We made suggestions about the number of boxes that should be placed in locations based on whether they had one overdose or five overdoses. Based on the number of overdoses per building, we suggested the locations where there should be multiple boxes or only one box."

Gousman talked with the director of The Cleveland Department of Public Health, and Dr. David Margolius said CMHA properties are some of the city's hotspots for overdoses.

The data used dates back to 2011 and comes from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, and EMS runs.

The naloxone inside the boxes is to be administered in nasal spray form. CMHA officials said that they plan to conduct free training sessions for their residents to learn how to use the drug properly.

"Having more people understand what an overdose looks like or sounds like and then understanding how to administer naloxone while waiting for EMS or first responders to come and provide more life-saving measures, if necessary, is going to make an incredible impact on saving lives in Cleveland everywhere these CMHA properties are located," said Zietlow-DeJesus.

Groves said, "We strive to make sure our residents have access to resources, and if that resource has something to do with substance abuse or any kind of challenge our residents are having, I think having it right here accessible where they live, I think it is removes huge barriers for our residents."

MetroHealth maintains and manages the boxes and told us there have already been at least two instances where naloxone was taken from those boxes since installation started in April.

The first 100 boxes were installed countywide in high-traffic places like The Rock Hall, shelters, and laundry mats starting in 2021.

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