The Evolution of the Opiate/Opioid Crisis in Cuyahoga County
Thomas P. Gilson, Hugh Shannon, Jaime Freiburger
ABSTRACT: The United States continues to grapple with an epidemic of opiate/opioid drugs. This crisis initially manifested itself in the use and abuse of opioid pain relievers and has since seen an increase in illicit opiate/opioid drug use mortality. Cuyahoga County (metropolitan Cleveland) has been an area where the crisis has been particularly acute; this paper updates our previous experience. Most notable in the evolution of the drug epidemic has been an increase in mortality associated with fentanyl and an alarming rise in overall deaths, largely attributable to the emergence of fentanyl (a 64% increase in total overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016, with fentanyl increasing 324%). Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with use in medical analgesia and anesthesia; however, most of the current supply is of clandestinely manufactured origin. Also of concern is the recent appearance of illicit fentanyl analogues, which are briefly described in this report. White males continue to be the most frequent overdose victims in the current crisis. A decrease of age appears to have taken place with the emergence of fentanyl with the most common age group being between 30 and 44 years of age. The majority of decedents are nonurban residents. Educationally, most of these decedents have a high school diploma or less schooling and a significant percentage consists of manual laborers. Medical examiners are an important source of information necessary to develop prevention and interdiction strategies. Challenges faced regarding adequate funding, instrumentation, and staffing are being felt.