Last year was a record-breaking year for the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, but not in a good way.
In a letter to the Franklin County Fiscal Court, Coroner Will Harrod said his staff opened more than 200 cases in 2020, 30 more than the previous year.
The number of overdose-related deaths increased from 17 to 25, and deaths involving fentanyl nearly tripled from seven in 2019 to 20 in 2020.
In December, FCSO Sgt. Lucas DEborde told the fiscal court there had been four fentanyl-related deaths in two months. Frankfort Fire and EMS Chief Wayne Briscoe said at the time EMS crews had already worked 87 opioid overdoses, including fentanyl, since July 1. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Briscoe said the department responded to 109 opioid-related overdoses.
There were also twice as many suicides in 2020, a total of 12.
Part of that increase, he said, stems from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated isolation as restrictions were put in place to curb the spread of the virus.
“While we can not confirm the rise in cases are COVID-19 related, we can correlate the increase of cases with the pandemic experience,” Harrod said in the Dec. 30 letter.
Those numbers may change, he said, as several investigations were still pending at the end of the year.
During Harrod’s 13-year tenure as coroner, he said, the caseload has continued to grow.
“It increases every single year,” Harrod said Thursday.
The effects from the continuing pandemic are evolving as well, which will add to his office’s expenses in the coming months.
Harrod said the medical examiner’s office in Frankfort began closing at least four days a week beginning in September from budgetary, staffing and COVID issues. The nearest option, he said, is Louisville.
When there is a decedent who needs an autopsy, Harrod said they have a conference call with a medical examiner. During that call, the decision is made concerning an autopsy and whether it will take place in Frankfort or Louisville.
“It’s a flip of a coin,” Harrod said. “It has been since September.”
With added time and travel comes added expense and use of the department’s vehicles, he said.
“All that impacts budgetary items,” he said.
The letter was also intended to alert the fiscal court there may be additional expenses or budgetary needs, depending on how long the pandemic continues, he said.