Frazer Blog

Opioid epidemic continues to strain communities

by | Mar 21, 2017 | Funeral Profession


Communities across the country are plagued by the opioid epidemic. It’s a topic we’ve talked about before, but unfortunately, it’s only getting worse.

The Opioid Epidemic: Breaking Down the Numbers

The problem is so bad that our country’s overall life expectancy rate has actually fallen, and overdoses are one of the main reasons why. Here’s what the data shows:

  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. In 2015, there were more than 52,000 deaths from overdoses.
  • Around 20,101 were related to pain relievers.
  • Almost 13,000 were related to heroin overdoses.
  • On an average day, 78 people will die from an opioid overdose.

Some communities are getting hit a lot harder than others. According to the Economist, the death toll from opioid addiction is “greatest in big cities like Chicago and Baltimore, the devastation is most concentrated in rural Appalachia, New England and the Midwest. Many of the victims hail from white middle-class suburbs and rural towns.”

Communities Hurt by the Opioid Epidemic

In Ohio, where the epidemic is high, deaths from overdoses are occurring at such an alarmingly high rate that they’ve run out of room at the morgue. The Stark County coroner office has started using cold-storage trailers to house the overflow of overdose victims.

The Ohio Department of Health has reported that from 2003 to 2015 there was a 775% increase in opioid-related deaths in the community. After expanding the Montgomery County morgue last year, the county officials have found themselves still in need of more space. Kent Harsbarager, the coroner for Montgomery County, told the Washington Post they are now considering renting spaces out from funeral homes to use as extra space.

In West Virginia, things aren’t faring any better. The death rate has exhausted the state’s resources to provide burial assistance to families — for the fifth year in a row. The area funeral directors say it’s because of the opioid epidemic. In 2015, the state’s budget for burial assistance was already empty by March.

While the rising numbers and statistics are harrowing, they don’t tell the whole story. The crisis goes beyond statistics. It’s important to remember the people, communities, and families involved.

Just recently we’ve seen shocking scenes and stories about the toll the crisis is taking:

  • Last September there was the story of a couple found unconscious in their car, with their 4-year-old grandson in the backseat.
  • One funeral director in Ohio said that he witnessed a mourner overdose at a funeral for a young man who had also died from an overdose.
  • Many funeral directors, especially those in smaller towns, are having to bury their own friends and family. A Kentucky funeral director recently lost two cousins to overdoses.

How You Can Help

As communities across the country continue to get hit hard by the influx of addiction and overdoses, it’s going to take a unified community to help heal — and ultimately prevent the epidemic from spreading.

Here are a few ways your funeral home can help:

  • Work with local leaders to increase public awareness about the epidemic and engage the community through dialogue. Social media, local events, and community forums are great outlets for getting the conversation started.
  • Engage in collaborative prevention with local, state, and regional resources. Many states allocate funds to help assist with efforts to curb substance abuse — as does the federal government.
  • Turn your funeral home into a safe disposal site for discarding unwanted prescription drugs.
  • Develop a simple one-page resource guide for families or anyone seeking treatment or assistance to hand out at your funeral home.

How is your funeral home fighting the opioid epidemic? Share your stories with us in the comments below!


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