2015 Heroin-Related Deaths Slightly Decrease; Fentanyl-Related Deaths Continue to Rise

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Christopher Harris, (216) 443-7157 

Fentanyl-related deaths up 321% from 2014 (January – August)

CLEVELAND – Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas P. Gilson reports that 124 heroin related overdose deaths occurred in Cuyahoga County in the first eight months of 2015, a slight decrease from 2014 (130 deaths) and 2013 (133 deaths). However, fentanyl related deaths continue to rise, increasing to 59 deaths in the first eight months of 2015. Fentanyl deaths are up 321% from the same time in 2014 (14 deaths through August) and just 5 deaths for all of 2013.

“So far we have seen a slight slowing in the number of heroin deaths. At the same time, unfortunately, there has been an increase in the number of deaths from overdose with fentanyl, a narcotic several times more lethal than heroin.” said Dr. Gilson. “We continue to strongly encourage addicts and their families to make use of Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) and obtain the medication naloxone, the antidote to narcotics like heroin and fentanyl. DAWN has saved hundreds of lives and can be the difference between life and death.”

Reversing a fentanyl overdose is much more difficult, requiring higher and perhaps multiple doses of naloxone and delivery in a much timelier fashion. The window of opportunity for a successful save is very small.

Naloxone, the medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug, such as heroin or fentanyl, can be obtained free of charge through Project DAWN. Project DAWN has been responsible for reversals of over 250 overdoses since March 2013.

Cuyahoga County and its various municipalities, continue to work toward slowing the trend of heroin/fentanyl deaths through efforts such as placing prescription drug boxes at police stations throughout the County; increased arrests and seizures by local and federal law enforcement; more aggressive prosecutions by the County Prosecutor and the U.S. Attorney’s Office; the creation of the heroin death review committee and the heroin community taskforce; and the increased distribution of Naloxone.

For more information about the life-saving program Project DAWN, please visit: http://www.metrohealth.org/ProjectDAWN.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office hereby releases the Preliminary 2nd trimester 2015* statistical report for Medical Examiner-ruled heroin-related deaths** in Cuyahoga County, with the following notations:

*NOTE 1: Cases ruled as of September 30, 2015 for 2015 cases.
**NOTE 2: “Heroin-related deaths” means that heroin or the proper combination of metabolites were present and were a direct or supporting cause of the ruled death.

Medical Examiner-ruled heroin-related deaths for 2015 (January – August)

  • 124 ruled cases in Cuyahoga County.
  • Projections for 2015 are for 180-190 deaths related to heroin.

Medical Examiner-ruled fentanyl-related deaths for 2015 (January – August)

  • 59 ruled cases in Cuyahoga County.
  • Projections for 2015 are for 85-95 deaths related to fentanyl.

Heroin data and resource links are posted at: http://medicalexaminer.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/CC-HeroinInitiative.aspx with regular updates.

Annual statistical data reports from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office are available on-line at: http://medicalexaminer.cuyahogacounty.us/.