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'The entire street drug supply is contaminated.' Drug overdose deaths surge in Cuyahoga County

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At only a third of the way through July, the number of overdose deaths is mounting, said Dr. Thomas Gilson, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner is issuing a public health alert after two especially deadly weekends that left dozens dead from suspected drug overdoses.

Fifteen people died of suspected drug overdoses between Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning, according to a media release from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office. The previous weekend nearly a dozen others died.

At only a third of the way through July, the number of overdose deaths is mounting, said Dr. Thomas Gilson, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner. Officials do not yet know the exact cause of the surge in overdoses, but Gilson wrote in the media release it was important to warn the public even as officials continue to work to understand the root cause.

“I caution everyone to be on the lookout and take all necessary safeguards to protect their lives,” Dr. Gilson said.

Scott S. Osiecki, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, is urging people to take harm-reduction measures if they use drugs.

“It is important to understand that anyone using substances is at risk for an overdose. It doesn’t matter what race you are, what age you are or what drug you are using – the entire street drug supply is contaminated," Osiecki said. "We don't condone drug use. We support harm reduction efforts because they save lives and as long as a person is alive they have an opportunity to receive treatment and live in recovery."

Those who died over the weekend were between 31 and 78 years old and were from Cleveland, Lakewood, Middleburg Heights, North Royalton and Richmond Heights, according to the medical examiner.

Between 2007 and 2015, the number of fatal overdoses increased slowly from 226 to 370 countywide, according to the Cuyahoga County health department. Fatal overdoses spiked in 2017 to 727. At the current rate, more than 700 people are expected to die of overdoses in Cuyahoga County this year, according to the release.

Officials recommended the following safeguards:

Stephanie is the digital producer/editor of Ideastream Public Media’s health team.