Cleveland and Cuyahoga County health officials say they are seeing signs of success after expanding efforts to reduce drug overdoses last year.
The effort is the county’s latest to provide residents free, around-the-clock access to overdose medication, prevention supplies and resources to decrease drug deaths and save lives.
A Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s report estimates that 130 people have died from heroin, fentanyl or opioids since January 2023. At least 30 of those deaths have died from cocaine. In 2022, there were over 650 deaths from drug overdoses, a slight decrease from 2021.
Since the vending machines were installed in December, the county’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board reports, more than 110 overdose kits have been distributed.
The ADAMHS Board has worked with MetroHealth System, The Centers/Circle Health and Murtis Taylor to place vending machines and emergency boxes that dispense the overdose reversal medications naloxone and Kloxxado at sites across the county.
Scott Osiecki, CEO of the ADAMHS Board, said the nasal spray medications that reverse the effects of opioids have been life saving. Officials anticipate more will be distributed in the coming months as people become more aware of the machines.
“I am happy with the early success of the vending machines,” Osiescki said. “We know that access to naloxone saves lives, and we are grateful we received funding to make harm reduction vending machines available in our community.”
The ADAMHS board received more than $1.1 million in state funding to increase public health efforts to reduce overdoses by offering more access to resources, healthcare services and treatment.
The money went to purchase five vending machines that dispense free naloxone. Of the five machines, four carry other items such as safe-sex kits, wound care products and containers for sharp objects. The money was also used to purchase 400 naloxone emergency boxes that contain Narcan and Kloxxado, brands of the nasal spray medications.
Osiecki said that while the organization doesn’t condone the use of drugs, the complexities of substance use disorders call for more support for supplies such as test strips that detect the presence of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs and increasing access to naloxone as a way for residents to find their way into treatment and recovery.
“Too many of our community members are dying from overdose because of fentanyl in drugs like cocaine, crack, meth and pressed pills,” Osiecki said. “We want individuals using substances to stay alive and find their way into treatment and begin their journey to recovery.”
Community partnership leads to residential access to Narcan
The MetroHealth Office of Opioid Safety said it has distributed at the hospital’s main campus more than 140 naloxone kits from its vending machine since January 2023.
Stephanie Shorts, who leads the hospital system’s overdose prevention program, Project DAWN, said the increase in this number has been in part because of efforts to make it easier for residents to access prevention supplies.
“Breaking down organizational silos and collaboration has been a huge effort,” Shorts said. “Our goal has always been to make sure the harm reduction tools are being used.”
Since Project Dawn launched in 2013, the team reports it has reversed more than 6,600 overdoses through the MetroHealth mobile unit. The program provides residents with free naloxone, resources, education and other outreach efforts.
The department also said it has installed 100 emergency boxes at a few properties with Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), and one of the boxes was used to reverse an overdose this past weekend. The public housing group is also working with Thrive for Change, a nonprofit organization that provides free overdose reversal medication to high-need communities in the Cleveland area and trains residents on how to use Narcan and help reverse overdoses as a bystander.
Bethany Roebuck, executive director of Thrive for Change, said there needs to be a public health approach to addressing the opioid crisis in Cleveland.
Last year, Roebuck, The Cleveland Department of Public Health, Cleveland City Councilwoman, Rebecca Maurer and the public housing group met to introduce the idea of providing life-saving, emergency nalaxone into 12 of the housing authority’s properties.
She said the organization is looking forward to working with CMHA residents to provide bystander overdose response training to residents this summer.
“We are grateful they’re working with us to increase access to these resources for the residents,” Roebuck said. “We know the crisis is not getting better. But we can prepare people through education and awareness to prevent fatalities.”
Recovery from addiction is possible. For help, please call the free and confidential treatment referral hotline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit findtreatment.gov.
The story was updated to reflect the correct the number of people who died of drug overdose deaths this year.