Medical Examiners and Coroners Struggle to Keep Up With Drug Overdose Deaths

Medical Examiners and Coroners Struggle to Keep Up With Drug Overdose Deaths

Medical examiners and coroners around the nation are struggling to deal with the large number of drug overdose deaths, the Associated Press reports.

The surge in overdose deaths is leading to a shortage of places to store bodies, and long waits for autopsies and toxicology testing, the article notes. The coroner’s office in Hamilton County in Cincinnati has a 100-day backlog of DNA testing for police drug investigations, in large part due to the rise in overdose deaths. Medical examiners in Connecticut and Wisconsin have had to find new places to store bodies when their storage area nears capacity.

Overdose deaths have added to existing problems in medical examiner and coroner offices, which include inadequate facilities, budget woes and a shortage of forensic pathologists who are qualified to perform autopsies. Some offices risk losing accreditation because their pathologists are likely to perform more than 325 autopsies a year—the limit set by the National Association of Medical Examiners’ accreditation program.

“There are many, many parts of the country that have substantial problems,” said Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner and President of the National Association of Medical Examiners. “I think the drug overdoses have substantially increased the problems.”

Forensic pathologists are needed to investigate violent deaths, as well as suspicious and unexpected deaths occurring outside of hospitals. Forensic science groups say at least 1,000 forensic pathologists are needed, but there are only about 500.

Delays in investigations mean families must wait longer to learn how their loved ones died. The waits also impede crime investigations and court cases.

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