Before, if the county morgue had five bodies it was a busy day. But in 2016 ten bodies a day became the new normal. Numbers finally got so high the county had to rent refrigerated storage units and make changes to morgue policies.
Montgomery County Coroner, Dr. Kent Harshbarger said, “We have plans for emergencies and disasters, but this has pushed us to the limits and we had to change our usual policies.” But in 2016, “We were running out of room to put the bodies.”
“In the past, our morgue would store reminds as a courteous for families until they could contact their funeral home and we would sometimes, respectful keep remains until the funeral home had time to come by and receive the body, “ said Harshbarger. “Now, we have to call funeral homes as soon as an autopsy is finished and ask them to transport. We work longer hours in able to have a quicker turnover. And we do all of this with great respect for the deceased and their family.”
While in 2016 they used two refrigerated trailers, by the end of the year they have been able to get the workflow under control. But 2017 is looking to be even worst.
By the end of May, the number of overdose deaths for the year was 365.
Some county officials estimate the total will push far past the 371 overdose deaths of 2016 and could go close to 800 if everything stays on pace.
Where determining if an opioid overdose was the cause of death Harshbarger explains the coroner’s office uses a variety of information. Starting with the deceased’s personal history of drug use, items found at the scene, needle marks and other signs on the body.
Surprisingly, most of the deaths are not pure heroin-related. Harshbarger explained, “About 90% of the overdose deaths we see are from fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.” Fentanyl is a made man opioid originally made by pharmaceutical companies for pain relieve. Fentanyl analogs is a term used to describe drugs that have a slightly different chemical makeup than pure fentanyl. The fentanyl and fentanyl analogs being sold on the streets today are mostly made by overseas chemist and illegally smuggled into a country. Which creates a new problem.
Naloxone (Narcan) is the emergency medicine given to someone overdosing on an opioid. Harshbarger reported that Narcan still works on most of these fentanyl analogs but not as well as they worked on heroin. Because Naloxone doesn’t have the same effect on these fake fentanyl analogs those overdosing on them require a “higher Narcan mega-dose” of the drug to work and stop the overdose.
In responding to the high number of overdose deaths every Montgomery County police cruiser is equipped with Naloxone aka Narcan. Every night one cruiser’s sole responsibility is to be stocked with Narcan and travel the county restocking offices as needed.
When asked why so many overdose deaths are happening in Dayton, Ohio? Dr. Harshbarger said, “The drugs come from every direction. They come from Detroit down Interstate 75 going to Cincinnati, Lexington, and Louisville. And they come from Chicago into Indianapolis and onto Interstate 70 on the way to Columbus. Routes I-75 and I-70 cross in Montgomery County, which is home to Dayton. Dayton has become a distribution hub.”
When asked what can the community do to turn this pandemic around Harshbarger said, “I wish I knew the answer. I guess the best advice is don’t start. But, for families, I would tell them to get Narcan and keep trying treatment centers. But most of all have hope, and let those addicted know there is hope.”
The coroner said that while he doesn’t see an end to this in sight, he has hope for people who get into recovery treatment. And he has hope for Dayton. Harshbarger said, “never give up hope, we have to hold onto hope.
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