According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in 2016, opioid drugs were responsible for nearly 2,100 nonfatal overdoses treated in Minnesota hospitals and claimed 395 lives, which experts take as a sign of a growing problem fueled by prescription painkillers, heroin, and an ever-expanding list of powerful synthetic drugs.
While the narrative is often focused on the human tragedy, a recent MinnPost article explores the effect overdose deaths can have on the people whose job it is to investigate the circumstances of them: those who work in medical examiners’ offices.
Ross Reichard, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner of the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, located at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, talked with MinnPost about the cost of each drug overdose investigation. According to Dr. Reichard, a drug overdose investigation costs more to investigate than many other types of deaths.
“Even if you have a relatively small increase in cases, the complexity of the testing that has to be done to rule in or rule out these drugs is increasing, and that’s an additional cost—and work. [Synthetic opioids] have evolved very quickly, so keeping ahead of the testing needs has been a challenge on laboratories in general. Again, that’s additional cost and time and resources,” he said.
Dr. Reichard’s office in Olmsted County hasn’t had to raise the cost per death investigation it charges counties, but the increased cost of testing does affect its bottom line, he said.