An Ohio coroner's office has hit capacity for a second time this year, due to the massive number of overdoses.
May 22 marked a dark day for Dr. Kent Harshbarger as he admitted that 12 of the 13 bodies in his office were overdose cases. And despite efforts to expand the cooler from 36 to 42 spots, no space would be enough for the epidemic circumstances, Trib Live reported.
The opioid crisis is rooted in the 1990s, when doctors were encouraged to treat chronic pain as if it were a serious health condition, rather than a symptom, a Vox video (below) explains. Big Pharma released studies confirming that opioids were the safer option for pain relief. And by 2014, enough opioid prescriptions had been written to give every adult in America a bottle. Doctors quickly realized the need to cut back, so they did. But it was too late -- addictions were already in place. Addicts began to look for other drugs to fill that void.
So here we are now.
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Ohio is the leading victim of the opioid epidemic that has captured our attention in the last few years, and as new designer drugs come out, the death toll is rising.
Southwest Ohio, where Harshbarger's office is located, is on track to receive more than 2,000 overdose deaths in 2017.
"I'm looking at 2,900 autopsies, 2,000 of them overdoses," said Harshbarger.
"I can't operate at that capacity," he added.
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The office reportedly handled less than 2,000 total autopsies in 2016.
Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, coroner for Hamilton County, witnessed the evolution of the epidemic in her office.
Heroin took the spotlight in 2012 and 2013, with increasing overdoses, and by the end of 2013, fentanyl became the new problem for Ohio -- and the entire country, too. Shortly after the heroin craze, Sammarco found herself dealing with all sorts of fentanyl derivatives: acetylfentanyl, acrylfentanyl and carfentanil.
In the summer of 2016, Sammarco watched carfentanil make its way down Interstate 71.
"Cleveland confirmed, then Akron confirmed -- they had 24 overdoses in one weekend. Then Columbus -- they once had nine in one hour. I said, 'If it's not already here, it's coming.' Within a week or two, we were getting a lot of overdose calls," she explained.
In August 2016, the county's EMS crews responded to 176 overdoses.
Upon hearing the news May 23 of Dr. Harshbarger's office running at full capacity, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation announced a new crime lab in Springfield that will focus on testing drugs contributing to Ohio's record-breaking overdose death tolls.
Some politicians are calling for more than just labs and bigger coolers, Cleveland.com reported.
Despite the shrinking budget, two Ohio Democrats have proposed a piece of legislation to address the crisis.
On May 17, Sens. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman and Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights proposed in their legislation to tap into the state's rainy day fund to address these issues.
Specifically, they're proposing to take $200 million from this $2 billion fund in order to increase treatment options and drug prevention education in schools, as well as allocate some money to collect county-level data that could help direct resources to different counties that need it most.
The bill would also mandate that insurance companies cover medications used to treat drug addition, as well as "abuse deterrent" prescription opioids that cannot be crushed for snorting or injected.