As the national opioid crisis rages in the midwest and along the northern and mid-Atlantic states, Cuyahoga County has reported yet another disturbing statistic about the growing death toll from one of America’s most pressing health crises: Last year, deaths from drug overdoses in the county – the bulk of which were caused by powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl – surpassed deaths from homicides, suicides and car crashes combined.
The county medical examiner’s office in Cuyahoga, which abuts the southern shore of the Ohio River, said the country, which is centered around Cleveland, recorded 666 overdose deaths lasts year. Officials see no end in sight to the crisis and are projecting deaths to climb in 2017, according to the Cleveland.com.
"What we've seen over the beginning of 2017 is it's getting off to a start that's worse than 2016," Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson said last week in a news release.
Here’s a rundown of data from the county medical examiner’s office, as compiled by Cleveland.com.
The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was a factor in 399 of the 666 overdose deaths reported last year. Prevalence of these synthetic drugs has risen sharply since 2013 when it was involved in just five deaths. Another reason for the spike in deaths is that fentanyl is sometimes being mixed in with other drugs, usually heroin but also sometimes cocaine. The 399 fentanyl deaths reported last year included 117 deaths caused by fentanyl alone and 141 caused by a mix of fentanyl and heroin. Sixty-eight deaths were caused by a mix of fentanyl and cocaine, and 73 were caused by a mix of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.
Two other powerful fentanyl analogues, Carfentanil and acetyl fentanyl, were responsible for 54 and 43 deaths, statistics show.
Deaths from opioid overdoses are most prevalent among young white males aged 18-24, according to expert who monitor the epidemic. But in Cuyahoga County, opioids are increasingly killing minorities as well. Fentanyl contributed to the deaths of 58 black people last year in Cuyahoga County, up from 25 in 2015. Just five black people were died from fentanyl use in 2014, according to Cleveland.com.
Still, 85 percent of the people killed by fentanyl last year were white.
Although opioid deaths accounted for the bulk of overdoses, cocaine related deaths also rose sharply in 2016.
There were 260 people who died after overdosing on the drug, or on cocaine mixed with other drugs, statistics show.
Cocaine resulted in 115 deaths in 2015; in fact, cocaine-related deaths have not risen higher than roughly 125 at any point in the past decade.
Fentanyl has been involved in the bulk of drug deaths. But heroin and painkillers were also linked to a greater number of deaths.
Opioids, which include heroin and fentanyl, were linked to 557 of the 666 overdose deaths last year in Cuyahoga County.
Overdose deaths worsened in each four-month trimester of 2016, the medical examiner's office said.
According to the data, the county reported 140 deaths from January through April and 181 from May through August and 196 deaths between September and December.
In 2016, the county reported 475 violent deaths; that included 184 homicides, 172 suicides and 119 fatal crashes. Heroin and fentanyl, by contrast, killed 506.
Drug overdose deaths in the country are projected to increase from 666 in 2016 to 775 in 2017, the medical examiner’s office said. Heroin deaths are projected to drop, but officials are projecting an additional 200 cases involving fentanyl or cocaine.
"We are seeing epidemic levels of drug overdose deaths in this country," medical examiner Gilson told Cleveland.com in a statement. "It's a big issue."
Cuyahoga is hardly unique; deaths from drug overdoses nationwide surpassed homicides for the first time in 2015 as the epidemic of heroin and opioid related deaths in the US continues to grow amid the dismal failure of the 'war on drugs'.
One coroner in Montgomery Country, PA told a local newspaper that the morgue's freezer is running out of room for bodies because of the high death toll from the epidemic.
President Donald Trump has vowed to combat the crisis, saying that his border wall would help curb the flow of drugs over the border from Mexico. But increasingly, drug dealers are ordering their drugs through websites hosted on the dark web, where fentanyl and other super-powerful synthetic opioids are widely available. These sites connect buyers with labs in China who will mail the drugs to US-based customers in unassuming packages that are difficult for customs to intercept.