County morgue approved . . .
The number of drug overdose deaths in Hamilton County this year has reached 36 as compared with only half that many at this time last year.
That kind of increase is very troubling to health care providers and public officials alike. But, no one seems to know how to successfully halt the growing problem.
Heroin, laced with the powerful drug fentanyl, seems to be a big part of the increasing problem. The mixture has produced deadly results in some of the more recent overdose cases locally.
Another drug, Narcan, has aided in keeping many overdose cases from becoming fatal. But, some drug users have now begun counting on Narcan to save them, and after being assisted by its use, have gone back to illegal drug use only to need another lifesaving dose of the antidote. Public agencies such as police, courts, prosecutor and the health department each are doing their authorized duty to deal with their particular part of the drug problem. But, arrest, prosecution, and drug education do not appear to be slowing drug use although the problem could be even worse if not for these efforts.
In addition to heroin, the use of methamphetamine, commonly called meth, is also regarded as a part of the problem. It is largely supplied by out-of-county sources, according to Prosecutor Lee Buckingham. Not much meth is made locally, he believes. The other drugs seem to come from both local and surrounding county sources. Buckingham meets regularly with heads of the county police agencies, and drugs are a topic of conversation with the officers exchanging information and ideas on fighting the problem which the prosecutor says is “ravaging” the county. He does not recommend the needle exchange program for drug users now in effect in 10 Indiana counties. He feels that program does nothing to end drug abuse and may even contribute to the problem by making drug use seem safer.
Statewide, the heroin epidemic has become a priority of Gov. Holcomb’s administration. This week, Indiana University pledged $50 million toward studying and finding a method of combating the crisis.
At least partially due to the increase in drug deaths, a county morgue has been authorized for the first time in history. It will be located in a dedicated portion of Riverview Hospital. More than $1 million has been approved for the facility with county government paying $567,000 and the hospital providing another $500,000.
County Coroner John Chalfin asked for the morgue because the county does not have a sufficient number of refrigerated chambers at hospitals and funeral homes to handle the bodies of the dead not only from drug fatalities, but increasing number of other coroner cases as well.
Chalfin is also seeking approval of new cause-of-death forms which will provide more specific and detailed causes of a person’s demise. He has had problems establishing the true nature of some deaths, especially when drugs are suspected of being involved.