Northeast Ohio Mother Issues Warning After Cuyahoga County Reports Rise in Drug Deaths


CLEVELAND – Cathy Lawley of Willoughby Hills said her life changed forever after losing her son, Michael Biellow, 31, to drugs on March 23, 2020.

Lawley issued a warning to all parents, after Cuyahoga County reported an increase in drug deaths, urging them to sit down and talk with their children or loved ones about the dangers of seeking a quick high.

“Now we have entered a paradigm shift, it is no longer about heroin overdose, and I want to emphasize that,” Lawley said.

“Without knowing it, they administered fentanyl and carfentanil, fentanyl is a tranquilizer for elephants.”

“Your kids may go out because they have an addiction problem, but they can also be at a party with other people and talk about how they can get high once.”

“It is not about overdose, they are children who think they are going to get high with something and they are not getting high with something, they are dying.”

Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson issued a public health alert on April 6, stating that Cuyahoga County suffered at least 69 suspected overdose deaths in the month of March.

Gilson told News 5 that if deaths continue at this rate, Cuyahoga County could again see more than 700 overdose deaths. The last time Cuyahoga County suffered more than 700 deaths was in 2017. In addition, there were 13 overdose deaths in the first five days of April.

A significant part of the deaths is attributed to fentanyl and carfentanil.

Local agencies such as the Cuyahoga County ADAMHS Board and the MetroHealth System Office of Opioid Safety said the alarming rise in drug-related deaths prompts them to urge families to seek resources.

Beth Zietlow-DeJesus, ADAMHS Board Director of External Affairs said News 5 families should be on the lookout for signs of drug use and addiction.

“These are not statistics, they are human beings, they are brothers, sisters, parents, children,” Zietlow-DeJesus said. “When there is a group, as we see now, it just tears us apart.”

“The person living with a substance use disorder has a chronic brain disease, they need medical treatment, counseling and care to get better.”

“Look for secretive, very defensive, irritable and angry behaviors.”

Kelly Cioletti, Social Work Coordinator for the MetroHealth System Office of Opioid Safety, said the News 5 outreach is available, along with their Enrollment Outreach Unit, posted on West 25th Street in Cleveland, across from the Patient Pavilion. MetroHealth Outpatients. Cioletti said the free Narcan kits and fentanyl test strips are available Monday through Friday through its Project DAWN program.

“We are available, literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Cioletti said. “You don’t need an ID, you don’t need to wear it, it can be a family member or a friend.”

“It used to be that everyone thought it was a downtown drug, but it’s not anymore.”

“It’s scary, it’s scary, you feel for the families who are dealing with this and sadly they have to bury a loved one.”

Meanwhile, Lawley helped form “APALD,” which stands for People Against Lethal Drugs Association. Lawley said the organization will hold a rally for change on June 4 in 30 cities across the county, spreading awareness and advocating for legislative change in the war on synthetic drugs, which the CDC says killed 81,000 people. in 2020.

Lawley said she does all she can to honor her son as a way to help families save loved ones.

“I would tell him that I love you more than you will ever know, and I have you in my heart every day, and I am your voice,” Lawley said.

“I know he would want me to keep going and keep trying and not shut up until my voice is heard.”

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