Medical Examiner Discusses the County’s Approach To Fighting Against the Opioid Crisis

by Christopher Harris , Communications Specialist

person adding a liquid in a test tubeCuyahoga County is in the midst of a deadly drug epidemic. In 2017, we lost at least 727 victims to a drug overdose death – the most in Cuyahoga County’s history.

Over the past few years, the epidemic has evolved and spread. In 2015, heroin was the most common drug seen in drug-related overdose deaths. However, fentanyl – a much more potent drug – rapidly became the most common drug in 2016. Furthermore, cocaine (often mixed with fentanyl) and carfentanil also increased over the past few years and should not be taken lightly. But how did we get here?

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson recently published The Medical Examiner's Office as a Focal Point, as part of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) publication series “Notes from the Field”. The article discusses the evolving crisis from the perspective of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office.

blue circle with just scale in middle with red ring around itDr. Gilson describes the roots of the opioid epidemic and how we can learn from those who have fallen victim to this deadly epidemic. Highlights of the article include:

  • Ohio’s problem with pain medication dates back to the late 1990s and early 2000s
  • Collaboration and partnerships have been vital to our county’s response to this crisis
  • Reviews of 2012 and 2013 overdose cases taught us that most of the people who were dying at that time were middle-aged men who worked in labor trades, especially construction
  • Sharing information and learning from past cases, increases our ability to intervene and guide potential victims along a different path.

To read Dr. Gilson’s publication, The Medical Examiner’s Office as a Focal Point, please visit:

line chart showing most common drugs used in overdoses