Jul 25, 2023 - Health

Cuyahoga County overdoses are at opioid epidemic levels

Illustration of skull-shaped pills coming out of a prescription bottle.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Cuyahoga County is on pace to record more overdose deaths in 2023 than in each of the past five years.

Why it matters: With unrelenting fatalities caused by fentanyl and heroin, and a significant uptick in cocaine use, the county could approach the 727 total fatal overdoses of 2017, a high-water mark that coincided with the arrival of potent fentanyl analog carfentanil.

By the numbers: According to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office draft midyear report, shared last week with Axios, 343 people have died through June due to overdoses on opioids and cocaine.

  • That puts the county on pace for a total of 686, more than 2018 (550), 2019 (582), 2020 (553), 2021 (675) and 2022 (642).

The latest: The medical examiner, Thomas Gilson, issued an emergency health alert last week after nine fatal overdoses were reported within 24 hours July 16-17.

What they're saying: "This is discouraging," Gilson said in a statement. "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. Naloxone and fentanyl test strips are still meaningful harm reduction strategies."

State of play: Cocaine is on the rise as well. In June alone, there were 46 cocaine-related deaths, with as many as 33 of them involving cocaine mixed with fentanyl or heroin.

For a list of community resources and local sites with free drug test strips, visit Test Your Drugs or MetroHealth's office of opioid safety.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Cleveland.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Cleveland stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Cleveland.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more