Opioid Crisis: What Everyone Needs To Know


Kim Fisher

Kate Gill with her husband John and Dr. Thomas Gilson M.D.

“No one wakes up and says that they want to become a drug addict.” Dr. Thomas Gilson, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner and Crime Lab Director, said. However, 60 thousand or more have been lost to overdosing on drugs in past decade. No age group is safe from this crisis; it affects everyone. At 6:30 on March 6th, Gilson and Mrs. Kate Gill and her husband talked about the dangers involved with drug taking and the tragic story of their son, a Cleveland Heights alumni, who passed away in 2016 from a drug overdose.   

According to Dr. Gilson, over the last two years, the life expectancy went down due to the opioid crisis. In Cuyahoga County alone, 4,000 people have lost their lives to overdoses within the last decade. What started this whole addiction process, Dr. Gilson believes, is that in the 90s doctors had a tendency to over prescribe pain medications to patients. It was easier to fill out a form for prescriptions than it was to have the patient follow through with physical and occupational therapy.

This trend set the stage for a high drug tolerance, making it so that the body needs a higher dose of pain medications in order for there to be any effect on the person, and people became addicted to these drugs. Abuse of prescription drugs is only the first tier when abusing drugs. They are the easiest drugs to get ahold of for many people and are the first drugs people will turn to because they are just lying around the house. However, in 2011, 113 people overdosed on heroin, which had been unprecedented until that point, and steadily began to climb. During this period until today, deaths from overdosing on prescription drugs have plateaued. Heroin  became the second tier of drug abuse.  

Fentanyl, a drug that is 60 to 80 percent more potent than morphine, rocketed past heroin by the end of 2014, and in 2016, 399 people had overdosed. After fentanyl came cocaine in 2016 and finally came carfentanil. This is the last drug that people turn to because it is so potent. Usually used to sedate elephants, Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl and has shot up to 192  overdoses in 2017.

The new surfacing issue with all of these more dangerous drugs is that people who have been drug addicts for a long time are now dying from just one intake. People who are not even trying to use the “harder drugs” and use marijuana are dying on their first use. Dr. Gilson has confirmed that the reason for this lies in the manufacturing. The “harder drugs” are mixed into the “lighter drugs” to provide a more serious high or kick when taken. “Designer drugs,” as they have been called, look and smell just like the “lighter drugs” one is taking but could potentially kill the user instantly or take a harsh toll on the user’s dependency on it.

“These drugs are here… There is a good chance that our kids will encounter them,” Mrs. Gill says. This is a real threat that is getting worse. Anyone can get addicted.

Mrs. Gill’s husband believes that the best way to help people is to stop “criminalizing” drugs. The U.S spends a lot of money to enforce the illegal drug laws and to incarcerate those using illegal drugs. These funds should be switched, therefore, from putting people away to creating treatments for the addictions.

For now, the top priority is to get those with an addiction the proper care they need. Spotting the addicts in your friends and family is difficult though. No one wants to believe that their loved ones could abuse drugs and that it only happens to other people. The reality is that addictions can take hold of anyone and most people can hide their symptoms or their drugs very well.

If you suspect that a loved one has an addiction, here are some symptoms that Dr. Gilson has warned for people to look for:

  • worsening performance  in school
  • burn marks on their body
  • razor blades and powdery substances in their rooms
  • a personality change in a person
  • spoons disappearing from drawers
  • packages from China or other countries since drugs can be bought on the internet
  • a drastic financial change
  • prescription drugs going missing since they could be experimenting with them.

If you are seriously concerned about the wellbeing of a loved one, seek help immediately. Everyone can beat their addiction if they have a strong support system of friends and family who care!