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CHICAGO – America’s fentanyl epidemic has gotten so bad that some morgues are running out of room. From 6,000 synthetic opioid deaths in 2015, to a major jump to more than 63,0000 in 2021, fentanyl is the biggest factor.
Coroner’s offices across the country say it’s tough to keep up with the bodies piling up. The Marion County Coroner’s Office in Indianapolis blames drug overdoses in part for their crowded morgue.
At the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in Chicago, more room and resources were needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, COVID-19 deaths have dropped, but the morgues still need that extra space because of all the people fentanyl is killing.
“The most common non-natural death is opioids, it’s more than our number of homicides, more than our number of traffic accidents,” said Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar.
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Opioid related deaths in Cook County have nearly tripled from 675 in 2015, to nearly 2,000 last year.
“Most of them were related to fentanyl… These opioid deaths are preventable, all these deaths are preventable,” said Dr. Arunkumar.
Chicago-area resident Karen Zander lost her 22-year-old son John Allen to fentanyl poisoning. Zander said in 2016, Allen made the choice to snort cocaine that his best frined spiked with fentanyl, which ultimately killed him.
“These choices that they’re making, they’re not able to learn from their mistakes because they’re dying,” said Zander.
Zander says fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction.
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“It’s time for us to wake up and to get this stuff off the street,” said Zander.
Another Chicago-area resident, Caitlin Strebing, says her 35-year-old brother Ryan accidentally overdosed on fentanyl last year. She now advocates for substance abuse disorders and fentanyl awareness.
“Fentanyl is the leading cause of death in the U.S. right now for ages 18-45 and I think that alone speaks for itself,” said Strebing.
So far, there’s no sign of this deadly trend stopping. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office still utilizes their refrigerated trailers for morgue space and can handle all the bodies for now.
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“The increase in 2020 has continued into 2021 and 2022 but if it increases further, then we may have to look at additional resources,” said Dr. Arunkumar.
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Some coroners offices have had to increase their budgets to address the problem.