Franklin Co. Coroner and prosecutor ask for budget increase during opiate epidemic

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The opiate epidemic is hitting hard in Central Ohio and the Franklin County Coroner is experiencing an increase in caseloads.

Coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz is asking for a $500,000 budget increase from last year to help manage the number of overdose cases coming in.

By the end of September, she said at least 353 people died from an opiate overdose already this year. That’s as many overdoses as there were in all of 2016.

“We need more assistance in the morgue area to help with the autopsies,” said Dr. Ortiz. “We need more staff to go out and investigate. We need more physicians, forensic pathologists to do the autopsies and to collect the information and come up with a cause and manner.”

She said they used to be able to get autopsy reports out within 8-10 weeks. Now, with an increase in caseloads, it’s taking at least 12 weeks, sometimes up to 16 weeks.

But, it’s not just overdose cases that are causing the backlog.

“We’ve seen a 10% increase in homicides from last year and a 20% increase in suicide from last year,” said Dr. Ortiz.

Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien is also asking for a budget increase of about $75,000 to hire an additional prosecutor for drug court.

“Our drug court docket has increased at the same time that the opiate pill and heroin problem in our community has increased, therefore the docket’s much larger now in drug court that it was in past years,” he said.

Dr. Ortiz said attracting a new pathologist has already been difficult because neighboring states typically pay more than in Ohio.

“There’s quite a bit of pressure to get the work done and not to overwork the staff that is here,” she said.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ortiz estimated that if we stay on this current trajectory of overdose deaths more than 500 people will die from an opiate overdose this year.

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