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2017 Preliminary Drug Report


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

CLEVELAND – Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson today released the 2017 Preliminary Drug Deaths Report. While this report marks an increase in the number of fatal overdoses, the rate of increase has slowed. Overdose fatalities increased by 80% between 2015 and 2016, but only increased by 9% between 2016 and 2017. Notable trends/data include:
  • 727 Total Drug Overdose Deaths (includes prescription drugs) (666 in 2016) 
  • 604 Drug Overdose Deaths (includes heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine) (591 in 2016) 
  • 492 Fentanyl Deaths (399 in 2016) 
    • 100 Fentanyl Deaths among African Americans (58 in 2016) 
  • 191 Carfentanil Deaths (54 in 2016) 

“The evolving opioid epidemic has proven to be complex and multifaceted. Last year, we lost 727 victims to a drug overdose – the most we’ve ever lost in Cuyahoga County’s history,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “This is a human tragedy. And this crisis impacts our services in many different ways from our jails to the number of children in foster care. We will continue to attack this epidemic through treatment and prevention. And we have filed a lawsuit to hold those pharmaceutical companies accountable for the damage they have caused.”

Furthermore, the evolving drug epidemic continues to impact caseloads, staffing, and various medical examiner/laboratory operations.
  • Drug Chemistry Items Processed increased by 47% (21,422 items processed in 2017, 14,577 items processed in 2016) 
    • Note: Items processed may include but is not limited to drugs, packaging, paraphernalia, tablets, etc. 
  • Toxicology testing increased by 2.4% (3652 submissions in 2017, 3565 submissions in 2016)
  • Hired 5 additional staff members (Toxicology, DNA, Firearms, Pathology (Autopsy) Assistant, Forensic Pathologist) 
  • Purchased new equipment: 
    • Drug Chemistry: 2 Gas chromatography–mass spectrometers (GC/MS) 
    • Toxicology: Liquid chromatography–Tandem mass spectrometer (LC/MS/MS), Tecan Freedom EVO (ELISA) workstation, High Resolution-mass spectrometer (Pending for 2018) 

While these numbers are still devastating to our community, several factors appear to have contributed to a slowing of the fatal overdose rate, including a reduction of carfentanil in the illicit drug supply, the increased availability of Naloxone, addiction treatment, and prevention education.

“In 2017, we saw a continued worsening of the drug overdose epidemic that has plagued our county. It is heartening to see a relative decline in deaths towards the end of the year, but we are still a long way from the end of the crisis,” said Dr. Gilson. “We hope this information proves useful to the community in our ongoing efforts to combat this public health emergency.”

For additional information and to view the complete report, please visit: http://medicalexaminer.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_medicalexaminer/en-US/HeroinFentanylReports/2017CCMEOPrelimDrugDeathRpt.pdf