The statistics are alarming: The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ (DHHR) Health Statistics Center reports 884 overdose deaths in 2016 in West Virginia up from 735 in 2015. That 20 percent jump includes increases in heroin and fentanyl-related overdose deaths.
“It’s bad. It’s bad statewide. And we’re seeing some of the effects in Marion County, as we are in the state,” said Lloyd White, Chief Medical Examiner in Marion County.
With those numbers on the rise comes an increase in other figures as well. Every fatal overdose requires a site visit from the medical examiner, so for White, it’s one call after the next.
“We work very closely with police officers. They are the primary investigation agency. We’ll do our own investigation and try to look for clues – like needles and cookers. Every scene gets a visit from the Medical Examiner,” said White.
Another notable increase – transport costs. The DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health said those costs have skyrocketed from $444,076 in 2015 to $881,620 in 2016.
“We do have more drug overdose deaths, consequently we have more transports. Therefore, more cost,” said Lloyd.
For the chief medical examiner’s office in Charleston, the opioid crisis has increased the burden of the overall caseload. The DHHR said since the beginning of the year, there have been 5,575 cases, a 14% increase in the caseload. As a result, autopsies are now being conducted six days a week.
“We sometimes, in the field, draw blood, urine, and vit for forensic toxicology analysis. Some tests themselves takes longer than others, so they may have preliminary results within a week or two weeks. But some of the tests, depending on what they’re testing, may take longer,” said White.
President Donald Trump recently declared the opioid epidemic a “national health emergency.” White said he hopes that West Virginia will soon reap some of those benefits.
“Kind of eliminate or cut through some of the red tape that we, typically, would have to see. We’re hopeful that, as we move into the future, that he will add funding to make it more effective and valuable,” said White.