Opioid epidemic continues in midst of pandemic, fentanyl overdoses climb in Ohio

Updated: Jun. 26, 2020 at 6:15 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, another epidemic continues to rip apart families here in Northeast Ohio.

The opioid crisis is not over, and fentanyl overdoses continue to climb.

Shutdowns, isolation from families and some reduced services have made it even harder for some people struggling to get sober.

19 Investigates spoke to one man in recovery on just how bad fentanyl use is getting and how he’s facing an uphill climb to get better.

Matthew Duff grew up in Hudson. He turned 30 years old in rehab.

A mountain biking injury led him down a dark path.

“The doctor prescribed me painkillers, and as soon as I had them I kind of had that feeling, I’ve kind of been chasing it ever since,” he said.

He started using opioids, first pills, then heroin, and moved on to the more potent fentanyl.

“You have a mysterious white powder in front of you. And it’s either what you think it is, or it’s super, super strong,” he said.

Years later, Duff sought help at The Lantern Center for Recovery in Cleveland, a non-profit rehabilitation center.

He’s been there since mid-January, before the pandemic hit.

Matthew Duff is on the road to recovery.
Matthew Duff is on the road to recovery.(Matthew Duff)

The shutdowns and job losses are making things worse for a lot of people struggling with addiction.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office recently reported there have been 235 deadly drug overdoses so far in 2020, and at least 66 fatal heroin, fentanyl and cocaine overdoses in May alone.

That nearly matches the deadliest month for overdoses in the county's history, February 2017.

“Unfortunately these people don’t want to die, but they also don’t want to get sober either so they’re kind of in this cycle of using this dangerous drug,” Duff said.

The pandemic has changed getting sober.

At The Lantern, the few people they take in are tested first for Covid-19 and usually transferred from the hospital.

And they're all hooked on fentanyl.

Duff has been in lockdown there since the pandemic began and hasn't seen his family.

The center doesn't want people coming and going, so they don't spread the virus.

“It has kind of been a blessing for me. I totally needed to slow down and re-evaluate my life. And it probably is something I wouldn’t be doing if the virus didn’t come,” Duff said.

Since he's been there, a few of his childhood friends died from opioid overdoses.

He says The Lantern has helped him find the right path.

“It’s hard to hear, but it definitely reassures you you’re doing something worthwhile right now,” Duff said.

The American Medical Association says more than 30 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths.

It's still too early to see the full effects of the pandemic on drug overdoses.

But help is still out there.


Free fentanyl test strips are available across Cleveland here:

-Circle Health Services, 12201 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

-Care Alliance Clinic

2916 Central Ave., Cleveland

1530 St. Clair Ave., Cleveland

-MetroHealth mobile unit, 3370 West 25th St., Cleveland

The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, or ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 216-623-6888.

Project Dawn also provides information to active or recovering opioid addicts. Free Naloxone antidotes are available to eligible individuals.

You can also find more resources on Governor Mike DeWine’s RecoveryOhio Initiative website here.

Copyright 2020 WOIO. All rights reserved.