Heroin-Related Deaths Decrease for first time since 2007; Fentanyl-Related Deaths finish at all-time high in 2015

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Christopher Harris: (216) 443-7157 or cbharris@cuyahogacounty.us  

CLEVELAND - Heroin deaths in Cuyahoga County decreased by over 7%, to 183 in 2015, the lowest number of fatalities since 2012. However, the fentanyl death total for 2015 nearly tripled from 2014, with 89 ruled cases, with 41 of those cases containing both heroin and fentanyl.

“The heroin and opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, and we will continue to work diligently to address this issue,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “As we face adversity, Cuyahoga County will remain committed to raising awareness and providing support, prevention, and treatment options.”

Fentanyl deaths in January 2016 are expected to set an all-time record and, when counted with suspected heroin deaths, will result in the largest death toll ever recorded in a single month in the county. Through the first month of 2016, fentanyl deaths are on pace to match heroin deaths one for one, the first time in Cuyahoga County history. That means that heroin and fentanyl are killing one person a day in Cuyahoga County.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Drug Chemistry Lab has now confirmed that fentanyl in pill form is being sold as Oxycodone (Figure 1). This poses a serious danger to anyone thinking they are taking Oxycodone. It should be clear that buying medications of any kind off the street can be deadly and is illegal. Fentanyl in pill form had been reported in other jurisdictions in the United States, but this is the first confirmed report for the Cleveland/Cuyahoga area.

“This is all the more alarming because this is a much more lethal drug, being dressed up as another popular drug abused by the same population,” said Dr. Gilson.