LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — Lorain County is experiencing a spike in opioid overdoses, with three spikes, or anomalies, reported since the beginning of May.
According to a press release from Lorain County Public Health, from May of 2021 to May of 2022, there were five total anomalies.
The releases, dating May 11 and May 16, report that there were “unusually high rates of opioid overdose-related emergency department visits” on May 1, May 7, and May 14. The releases also named fentanyl as a “dangerous synthetic opioid that you can’t see, smell, or taste.”
“Anything that we can do to assist someone to stay alive, we need to do it,” said Tonya Birney, dissemination and implementation director for prevention services at the Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services (MHARS) Board of Lorain County.
The MHARS board is the planning board for federal, state, and local funds for mental health and addiction issues in Lorain County, said Birney. That includes funding programs for things like substance use disorders.
Birney said they are working to get resources to the community in the form of Narcan kits, pouches that lock to prevent medicine from getting into the wrong hands, plus bags that can be used to dispose of unwanted medications. Lorain County Public Health is also shipping out about 100 Narcan kits to community members who have requested them.
Birney shared the importance of educating the community and reducing stigma surrounding substance use disorders.
“It’s a medical condition,” she said. “I think now more than ever, people are taking addiction seriously, because they know someone who has suffered from addiction.”
She also pointed to one substance in particular she has seen impact the community.
“I have been in the field of substance abuse, addiction and prevention for over 25 years,” she said. “I’ve never seen it like this. As a former treatment director, clinical director, preventionist, it’s changed the game. Fentanyl has changed it, changed it for us.”
One of the dangers of fentanyl is its ability to be mixed in with or disguised as other medications or substances.
“Nowadays, when we’re testing in the treatment centers, that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing fentanyl,” she said. “It’s Russian roulette to be honest with you. It’s important for us to get these harm reduction messages out to the community because we want them to be alive.”
Mark Adams, health commissioner for Lorain County Public Health, said that the three recent spikes resulted in 24 overdoses. He said they are still waiting on data from these overdoses to determine exactly what caused them, but said fentanyl has contributed to overdoses in the county.
Adams said the impact of the pandemic on mental health is likely a factor in the number of overdoses.
“Three and four years ago, we actually had reduced our overdoses by over 50 each of those two years, and then COVID hit. COVID did a number on everybody,” he said. “It did a mental health and wellness and a physical just reboot of a lot of people where it completely threw off our checks and balances.”
Adams has seen overdose numbers rise since the pandemic started. According to data from Lorain County Public Health, there were 143 overdose deaths in Lorain County in 2020. In 2021, there were 147 overdose deaths. He said if you take the overdose numbers from January to May of 2021 and compare those to the numbers from January to May of this year, 2022 has already surpassed 2021.
“So if we stay on that same pattern, were looking at well over 150, even potentially, if it stays this rate, you’re looking at potential of 200,” he said.
Adams lost his brother to drug use and said he hopes no other families have to go through what he experienced.
“We may not be able to get everybody to stop using, but for gosh sake, at least make a phone call, try to find out is what you’re using safe, has there been any other information that says something unsafe has come into the community – has it been tainted in some way? At least reach out,” he said. “But this belief that our friends, the ones that we think love us, are handing us something that could potentially kill us, and that it’s ok - it’s not ok. It’s not something that a good friend would be doing.”
Adams said Lorain County Public Health is still working to find answers as to why these spikes are happening in the county. Birney said if she had to say why the spike is happening in Lorain County, she would say perhaps the location of the county and its highways for mobility.
Both urged the community to educate themselves and turn to resources like Lorain County Public Health if they need help.
“We cannot be getting worse at this and using more, this has got to go backwards,” Adams said.
In addition, The LACADA Way addiction resource center in Lorain County cautions that another, more powerful drug may be at work. "Lorain County has seen a spike over the last three weeks in overdoses. Fentanyl is suspected in nearly all of them, however a newly more powerful synthetic opioid called Nitazenes is appearing in Ohio more frequently and is 40 times more powerful than Fentanyl," explains Dan Haight, president and CEO of The LACADA Way.