Northeast Ohio Eyeing Spike in Holiday Weekend Overdoses

[image-1]Holidays — and long holiday weekends in particular — bring an even more pronounced anxiety over the opiate overdose crisis in Northeast Ohio. It's hard to predict much of anything in this "slow-moving mass fatality event," as Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson has described it, except to say that it's getting worse before it gets any better. The long, hot summer is already setting to work.

Memorial Day weekend saw at least 13 fatal overdoses in Cuyahoga County, adding to the hundreds of opiate-related deaths in 2017 so far. That's a jump from three in 2014, three in 2015 and nine in 2016.

While heroin overdose deaths have been increasing across the board, holidays in Northeast Ohio and everywhere show a particularly striking uptick. Last year, eight people fatally overdosed from July 2 - 5. That compares to three deaths in 2016 in the same four-day time period.

Labor Day weekend last year saw nine overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County. There was just one in 2015.

This increasing number of deaths is not limited simply to heroin overdoses. Many — most — of the 2016 overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County last year are attributed to fentanyl, which is often laced into heroin or cocaine, and a spectrum of opioid medication. In a small number of deaths, the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil was responsible.

In Summit County, the medical examiner's office has brought in a mobile morgue to accommodate the latest victims and the suspected wave looming on the horizon. The trailer can hold up to 18 bodies. There's simply not enough room in the county's own morgue right now, a common problem among coroners' offices statewide.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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