Soaring numbers of overdose deaths are adding to woes already plaguing medical examiner and coroner offices, resulting in a shortage of places to store bodies and long delays in autopsies and toxicology testing.
The Connecticut medical examiner’s office has considered renting a refrigerated truck to store extra bodies because its storage area has neared capacity at times.
In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office sometimes has to put bodies on Army-style cots in its refrigerated storage area because it runs out of gurneys. The Hamilton County coroner’s office in Cincinnati has a 100-day backlog of DNA testing for police drug investigations, largely because of increased overdose deaths.
Medical examiners and coroners say overdose deaths are adding to a strain on their offices that already includes a surge of urban violence, inadequate facilities, budget problems and the shortage of forensic pathologists qualified to perform autopsies.
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Heroin has become so pervasive in cities such as Cincinnati and so profitable for the cartels that supply it that even cops admit the sporadic arrests they make have little effect. “It’s really not going to make any impact out on the street,” says Detective Brandon Connley, speaking from the damp parking lot outside the market. “Everybody and their mom sells drugs these days. There’s always somebody right there to pick back up.”
Millions of Americans got hooked on pain pills during a prescription binge that started in the 1990s and peaked around 2011. As states have tightened monitoring and doctors have reduced dosages, it’s become harder for addicts to get prescription painkillers, driving many to get their fix off street drugs. Mexican cartels and big-city gangs have capitalized on the shift, extending networks of dealers across the U.S. and flooding the market with cheap heroin, according to law enforcement.
Cartels have begun lacing heroin with synthetic opioids including fentanyl, making a dose more addictive and cheaper to produce. Overdose reversal shots are helping addicts survive, often to use again, giving dealers a steady supply of repeat customers. With persistent demand and increasingly wide profit margins, 2017 is shaping up as the most profitable year ever for the U.S. heroin trade.
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