Cuyahoga medical examiner issues health alert after nine suspected overdose deaths in 24 hours

CLEVELAND, Ohio – For the second time this year, the office of the Cuyahoga County medical examiner has issued a public health alert, this time after nine people died of overdoses within a 24-hour period.

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson on Tuesday said the spike in overdose deaths is driven by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is much stronger than heroin.

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

Naloxone is an opioid-overdose antidote that is carried by paramedics and police officers. Two men and seven women died. At least six were from Cleveland, another was from Bay Village.

The youngest on the list was Nathan Meyers, 26, of Mayfield Heights who was transported from the Cuyahoga County Jail to MetroHealth Medical Center, where he later died. Authorities did not say where the ninth person was from.

In June, Gilson’s office sent out a public health alert after the county recorded five suspected overdose deaths within 12 hours. The office revealed that the county was on track to record at least 750 overdose deaths by the end of the year. In 2017, the county had 727 overdose deaths, which, at the time, was the most in years.

The recent wave of overdose deaths in the county and around the country comes from the increased use of fentanyl. Most of those who overdose on the opioid are unaware the drug they are taking is laced with fentanyl.

For example, people might think they are using cocaine or an oxycodone pill, but it may be contaminated with fentanyl.

Scott Osiecki, the executive director of the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, said it is important to know that the street drug supply is dangerous and contaminated.

“People need to be aware that fentanyl is found in counterfeit pills mixed with meth, cocaine and other stimulants,” Osiecki said. “Anybody can be a victim of opiate or fentanyl overdose no matter their age, where they live or whether they are rich or poor.”

The county drug board has focused on harm-reduction efforts, including setting up vending machines in the county that contain Narcan, a device for delivering Naloxone to treat an opioid overdose. The machines also carry fentanyl test strips and other helpful first-aid items. The vending machines are a partnership between the board and MetroHealth Medical Center.

The board has also placed Naloxone boxes in several locations, including laundromats, corner stores and in buildings managed by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. The boxes contain Narcan, a mask, instructions on where to get help and how to perform CPR.

The drug board does not condone any illicit drug use, but it wants people to have the chance to get into treatment and live in recovery, Osiecki added.

“We want people to know that it’s not necessarily an individual’s fault,” Osiecki said. “An addiction is a biological based brain disease, and nobody wants to have cancer, and nobody wants to have heart disease. Nobody wants to have an addiction, either.”

The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 216-623-6888, or text 4help to 741741. For the national suicide and crisis prevention hotline, call 988.

Residents who need treatment also can call 216-623-6888. They can also utilize the Cuyahoga County Diversion Center, which offers detox services and treatment for mental health or substance abuse problems.