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Overdoses force coroner to rent trucks to store bodies

The escalating number of overdose deaths in the Dayton area has forced the local coroner’s office to take drastic measures, including temporarily renting refrigerated trucks and contracting with a local funeral home late last year to store bodies.

“So far, it’s happened only once, but we have plans in place if we need to outsource some storage again,” said Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger.

Contingency plans call for again enlisting the help of local funeral homes, and also storing bodies in refrigerated trucks that would be parked outside of the coroner’s office downtown at 361 W. 3rd St. The coroner’s office has also reached out to local hospitals to use their storage facilities as a last resort.

“It’s just nonstop anymore. We’re seeing the same tragedy over and over again.”

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RELATED: U.S. overdose deaths doubled from 1999; Ohio in Top 5

Harshbarger said as much as 65 percent of the approximately 10 bodies a day the coroner’s office is handling are suspected overdose deaths, which rose to a record 3,050 people in Ohio last year who died mainly from heroin overdoses. In Montgomery County, the number of accidental drug overdose deaths climbed from 127 in 2010 to 355 last year, based on preliminary figures.

The local coroner’s office handles bodies from approximately 30 counties, according to Harshbarger, who said his office has struggled to process bodies at the current intake rate before reaching its 42-body storage capacity.

“We’re struggling, but we are meeting the needs,” he said. “But we’re at a critical point. If this continues over time, we’ll have to investigate a new physical structure. That’s a big ask.”

Harshbarger said the 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.

Cramped quarters, in addition to the steady stream of bodies, are already having and impact on morale, he said: “There’s no decompression time, and that begins to weigh on people.”

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