Overdose deaths strain space at Butler County morgue

  • Michael Pitman
  • Staff Writer
4:37 p.m Thursday, April 27, 2017 Butler County
The city of Fairfield has donated five surplus cots to the Butler County Coroner’s Office. The cots take up less room than the rolling tables used to move bodies around the morgue, according to Martin Schneider, Butler County Coroner’s Office Administrator. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

The escalating number of overdose deaths in Butler County has strained space at the morgue, leading the coroner’s office this week to accept a donation of cots it can use to keep bodies awaiting autopsy.

“Our case load has often been increasing over the past number of years,” Martin Schneider, Butler County Coroner’s Office Administrator, told the Journal-News. “(The cots) allow us to properly maintain the people that are housed in our facility so that we can accommodate them.”

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Drug overdoes have contributed to the increased number of bodies coming to the morgue in the past five of years — 325 total cases in 2012 compared to 453 total cases in 2016. The coroner’s office is projecting to handle more than 500 total cases this year, according to Schneider.

Of the 453 deaths the coroner investigated last year, drug overdoses accounting for 192. Of those, 153 of them — or 80 percent — were fentanyl/heroin related, according to the coroner’s office.

“The problem has gone from bad to worse,” Schneider said. “The first quarter of 2017 has the potential to be the worst quarter we have seen yet.”

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The city of Fairfield on Monday donated five cots to the coroner’s office that the city’s fire department is no longer using.

The donated cots take up less room than the rolling tables used to move bodies around the morgue, Schneider said.

Fairfield City Council agreed to transfer five Ferno Model 93 cots to the coroner’s office because it “is in need of the equipment and the cots in question are no longer in active use by the fire department,” Fairfield City Manager Mark Wendling said.

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Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix told city officials about the morgue’s need for additional capacity, according to a staff report.

Fairfield is the only community to offer to donate cots, but Schneider said, “any equipment we could get at the morgue can help. Sadly we are constantly dealing with equipment and needs.”

Butler County is not the only area morgue to take drastic measures to deal with the growing number of overdose deaths it investigates.

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In Montgomery County, contingency plans call for enlisting the help of local funeral homes to store bodies, and also using refrigerated trailers as an overflow morgue. The coroner’s office has also reached out to local hospitals to use their storage facilities as a last resort.

Montgomery County’s current facility was remodeled last year to add 12 new storage units in anticipation of the increased demand, but there is no room in the building to accommodate more storage without compromising office space and the autopsy lab, according to the coroner.

Fentanyl/heroin-related deaths for the first quarter of 2017 are not yet available because some toxicology reports are still pending, he said.

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