More Black men dying of ODs

In the Mix

More Black men dying of ODs in Summit County 

Emily Mills

Akron Beacon Journal | USA TODAY NETWORK

An increasing number of Black men have been dying of drug overdoses in the last few years, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The grim statistic was shared as part of the county’s remembrance of Opioid Awareness Day on Tuesday, which also included messages of hope and recovery as the opioid epidemic continues but has often been overshadowed in the last 18 months by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Lisa Kohler said 2016 was “an awful year,” noting the introduction of deadly carfentanil into the community over the Fourth of July weekend.

Although the number of overdose Continued from 2016 deaths dropped from 2016 to 2017 and again from 2017 to 2018, Kohler said overdose deaths in the county have been increasing since 2018, with a significant increase in the number of Black men overdosing and dying since 2019.

In 2019, 17 Black men died due to drug overdoses.

The number more than doubled to 36 in 2020, Kohler said.

“That trend is continuing in 2021 but the increase rate is much smaller,” she said. “Although we are increasing, the numbers are not as great of an increase this year compared to last.”

Crushed powdered opioids in spoon with lighter, pills and syringe.

In general, Kohler said the majority of accidental overdose deaths are occurring in people in their 30s and 40s, with an age range of 21 to 71. Most overdose deaths are in Akron, but other municipalities with three or more deaths in the first six months of the year include Barberton, Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Coventry Township. All of the county’s other municipalities have experienced two or fewer overdose deaths in the first six months of the year.

Kohler said the medical examiner’s office sees three predominant drugs in overdose deaths: fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine.

“Thankfully, the numbers have decreased. We went down between 2016 to 2017 and again to 2018,” she said. “But … our numbers are starting to creep up, which is a worry. And although we’re seeing typically the fentanyl, methamphetamine or cocaine, there’s always a concern that something as powerful as carfentanil will show up again in our community. So people need to be aware that that is a concern and to take care. If they are choosing to abuse drugs, they don’t know what they’ve got in their hands. And they need to use that with care if that is their choice. And we’ve got so many resources in our community that can help you to stay safe and to overcome the addiction, so I just want to encourage everyone to seek out care and to just be very careful in their chosen activities.”

Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board Executive Director Aimee Wade said one issue contributing to the epidemic is people don’t know what they’re using or how strong it is, or it could be a different drug than what they thought.

“It is a huge concern,” she said. “People just do not know what they are getting out in the streets and in the community, and that is a huge contributing factor to what we’re seeing.”

Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said there have been 736 overdose-related emergency department visits in the county among county residents in 2021, which she said is an increase.

Authorities intercepted a woman using this drug kit in preparation for shooting up a mix of heroin and fentanyl inside a Walmart bathroom last month in Manchester, N.H. Fentanyl offers a particularly potent high but also can shut down breathing in under a minute.

Skoda also said fentanyl-related drug overdoses “increased sharply” from 2019 to 2020, a trend she said is continuing.

Skoda said the health department focuses on prevention and harm reduction strategies, including fentanyl test strips, opioid overdose antidote naloxone (also known as the brand name Narcan), needle exchanges, unused medication disposal bags known as Deterra bags and unused medication drop boxes.

Skoda said she’s talked to people who’ve used fentanyl test strips and then chosen not to use that substance or use a smaller amount, knowing it contained fentanyl.

There are 21 locations in the county to dispose of unused medications and 13 sites in the county to get Deterra bags. For locations, visit and

‘One more chance possibly to get it right’

“One of the things we need to realize is that an opioid or a substance use disorder is a disease, a brain disorder, and we want to keep folks alive long enough. So any harm reduction strategy that we can do, because that person could just then have the opportunity for treatment,” Skoda said. “Recovery does work, and we want to help people get on that road to recovery. But you have to survive.”

Some people criticize harm reduction strategies, saying it encourages someone with substance use disorder to keep using, but Opiate Abatement Advisory Council Member Bishop David Parker said it gives them a chance for recovery.

“I believe a life saved is worth saving. When we find ourselves with a broken arm, we know we seek treatment,” he said. “I would rather have a person have one more chance, one more chance possibly to get it right. When we talk about harm reduction … when we talk about being able to have fentanyl test strips, I would rather a life, a valuable life that cannot be replicated or duplicated get one more chance.”

Parker is a member of the 16-member Summit County Opiate Abatement Advisory Council, which is determining how to spend the settlement dollars received as part of a federal trial involving Summit and Cuyahoga counties that focuses on the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the opioid epidemic.

Wade said the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board focuses on prevention and education, along with following up with people who experience nonfatal overdoses to guide them toward help and resources, which can be accessed regardless of whether people have insurance or the ability to pay.

She encouraged people to call the ADM Board addiction helpline at 330940-1133 or visit

“It’s OK to ask for help,” Wade said.

Overdose Awareness Day recognized by governments

Overdose Awareness Day is recognized by both the federal and state government and was formally recognized by Summit County earlier this month. A recording of the news conference is available on Facebook.

“Today makes us stop and remember. This epidemic of opioids has touched our community and our land in so many ways. And it is without reservation that we want to stop and take a moment to remember those people that we have lost and truly the families that are left behind — the children, the parents, the sisters and the brothers, all of whom have suffered incredible losses,” Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro said.

“The COVID pandemic has overshadowed some of this, but at the end of the day, this pandemic continues, and we must continue to reach out and let people know that there is hope out there, that there are resources and there are people that care.”

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at and

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