CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County had 52 opioid overdose deaths in May, second only to the 60 overdoses reported in February of 2017, County Medical Examiner Tom Gilson said Tuesday.

With cocaine overdoses included, the toll for May rises to 68, the deadliest month ever, said Gilson, who was providing an update to the County Council’s Public Safety and Justice Affairs Committee.

Gilson gave two likely two reasons for the spike. While drug supplies from China and Mexico had probably been curtailed in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, they began to return in May.

At the same time, more casual users who were able to cut back during the pandemic, returned to using after restrictions were lifted and couldn’t handle the doses they previously had been accustomed to.

The numbers also show a higher number of Cleveland residents among the opioid overdoses. Of the deaths, 28 were from Cleveland, 18 from other areas of the county and six from out of the area.

The ratio of whites to African Americans was 3 to 1, representing a substantial increase in the proportion of overdoses among Black victims.

“It’s not a new trend for us,” Gilson said.

Gilson said cocaine overdoses were much more prevalent 10 years ago in cities among Black victims, while the opioid crisis struck down more white victims from rural and suburban areas. But when opioids such as fentanyl started being added to cocaine three or four years ago, the demographics began to change.

Asked if the county’s plans for diversion centers that might keep drug users out of jail would help save lives, Gilson said intervention as demonstrated by the success of drug courts suggests it is worthwhile to offer addicts other solutions than the programs they might be exposed to in jail.