Opi­oid over­doses are over­run­ning med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - By Christine Vestal

Dr. David Fowler’s staff is scram­bling to keep up with the surg­ing stream of corpses flow­ing through the doors.

In his 15 years as Mary­land’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, Fowler has seen nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, train crashes and mass shoot­ings. Heroinand co­caine-re­lated homi­cides have plagued this city for decades. But he says he’s never seen any­thing that com­pares to the opi­oid epi­demic’s spi­ral­ing death toll. As fen­tanyl, car­fen­tanil and other deadly syn­thetic opi­oids seep into the il­licit drug sup­ply, it’s only get­ting worse.

The re­cent surge in drug over­dose deaths has cre­ated an un­prece­dented na­tion­wide de­mand for au­top­sies and tox­i­col­ogy ex­am­i­na­tions, said Brian Peter­son, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Med­i­cal Ex­am­in­ers, which ac­cred­its the foren­sic pathol­o­gists who per­form death in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Many med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers are work­ing over­time and, in some places, they’re run­ning out of re­frig­er­ated stor­age for bod­ies. When that hap­pens, lo­cal of­fi­cials typ­i­cally bor­row ad­di­tional space at lo­cal funeral homes and hos­pi­tals, and in some cases, rent re­frig­er­ated trucks, he said. “Vir­tu­ally ev­ery med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice and tox­i­col­ogy lab­o­ra­tory in the U.S. has felt the im­pact of the opi­oid tsunami.”

In Mary­land, homi­cides and fa­tal car crashes also are on the rise, cre­at­ing far big­ger caseloads for med­i­cal ex­am­in­ers than rec­om­mended by the na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion. The con­cern is that per­form­ing more than the rec­om­mended limit of 325 au­top­sies in a year, in ad­di­tion to other du­ties such as tes­ti­fy­ing in court, could re­sult in er­rors.

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