The Montgomery County Morgue is at “full capacity all the time,” said Ken Betz, director of the coroner’s office.
“We can average almost 10 bodies per day in our facility where, historically, five bodies a day was a busy day,” Betz said. “Our staff is just plain tired.”
“We’ve never experienced this level of daily drug overdoses in my entire career,” he added.
Around 800 people will die this year from drug overdose in Montgomery County. Last year, that number was 370 overdose deaths.
“If we stay on this pace, we could quadruple our deaths from last year,” Mike Brem, captain of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, said.
The county already has the highest per capita overdose rate in the country, according to the county’s coroner’s office.
Many of the deaths are due to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain medication responsible for an epidemic of overdose deaths around the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.
Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Illegally manufactured nonpharmaceutical fentanyl is a growing problem, said the CDC.
Drug manufacturers originally promoted prescription opioids like oxycontin as a safer, less addictive alternative to other painkillers. In May, the state of Ohio sued five major drug manufacturers, accusing them of misrepresenting the risks of the drugs.
For Scott Weidle, the consequence of this epidemic is personal and overwhelming.
His 30-year-old Daniel, who had three boys of his own, died from a heroin overdose 18 months ago, one day after Christmas.
Weidle got the call while he was laying on a beach.
“Worst day of my life,” he said.
“I have all kinds of emotions,” he said. “One day it’s outrage, one day I’m infuriated, and one day I’m in disbelief.”
Weidle said he would have never imagined his son becoming a statistic in the opioid crisis.
That crisis killed more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Betz, it’s put more bodies in his morgue than he ever hoped to see.
“The pace is really out of the control for the staff. They’re burned out, they’re tired,” he said. “We’ve never and I’ve been here 40 plus years, experienced the level of daily drug overdoses in my entire career. It’s a very sad thing for our community and obviously sad for the families associated with the deaths.”