NewsOpioid Crisis


Public health alert issued after 9 suspected overdose deaths in 24 hours in Cuyahoga County

The spike is largely driven by fentanyl, per medical examiner
Posted at 4:21 PM, Jul 18, 2023

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner issued a public health alert after the deadliest-ever 24-hour period for suspected overdoses in the county.

Between Sunday and Monday, seven men and two women, ranging in age from 26 to 65, died from suspected overdoses.

“In light of the recent alert, this is discouraging. This is the highest number of suspected overdose deaths we’ve had within a 24-hour period. As best we know, this spike is largely driven by fentanyl,” Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson warned.

The public health alert suggests a personal harm reduction plan for anyone who has an opioid addiction.

“Naloxone and fentanyl test strips are still meaningful harm reduction strategies,” Gilson said.

Community advocates agree with the call for preventative measures.

“Substance use is in all families, it’s in all neighborhoods, it’s in every community, and we’re just naive to it,” said Kristy Steele, the founder and president of Save Our Families.

The nonprofit provides education and support for mental health, social justice and harm reduction. Steele offers supplies from her home, including overdose reversal drug naloxone, and fentanyl and xylazine test strips.

“I’ve had over a hundred people tell me, ‘Hey, that stuff you gave me saved a life,’” she said.

Steele explained she was inspired to advocate for harm reduction after the death of her mother from an overdose in 2017.

“Every day, I have to live with the fact that my mom didn’t give me that final phone call. And that’s a tragedy. It didn’t have to be like that,” she said.

According to the CDC, more than two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in 2022 were linked to synthetic opioids, namely the highly potent narcotic fentanyl.

Northeast Ohio advocates said fentanyl is pervasive in the local drug supply. More recently, other dangerous additives like animal tranquilizer xylazine, have also been reported.

RELATED: Fentanyl being mixed with animal tranquilizer xylazine, police say 

“Because of stigma, everybody's not going to tell you that they use drugs. That sometimes user is actually at a much larger risk right now. And I know a lot of folks in the past few years who have lost family members exactly that way,” said Jessica Collier, a harm reduction specialist for Thrive for Change and the SOAR Initiative.

Thrive for Change offers access to naloxone and fentanyl test strips by mail. SOAR provides alerts about overdose surges and potentially contaminated or dangerous drug supplies.

“[They're] real-time alerts from people who are using drugs about what’s going on in the supply at that time: ‘I got this drug, it tested positive for fentanyl, it was in this area, this is what it looked like,’” she explained.

As someone in recovery herself, Collier said such harm reduction strategies can save lives. Steele agrees even those who don't feel impacted by recent overdose surges should learn about the options.

“When you have these supplies on hand, you can save a life. It doesn’t have to be a friend or a family member. You can literally just save somebody’s life.”

You can order supplies by mail by clicking on this link and sign up for overdose surge and Deadly Batch Alerts by texting "SOAR" to 440-762-7627.

The Medical Examiner's Office says anyone in need of help and in risk of an overdose can call 419-624-3353.

Watch live and local news any time:

Carey Mulligan

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.

You can also catch News 5 Cleveland on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV NOW, Hulu Live and more. We're also on Amazon Alexa devices. Learn more about our streaming options here.