Medical Examiner: No surprises in 2017, including more drug deaths

Published 7:44 am Thursday, May 3, 2018

There were no major surprises in the annual Mower County report delivered by the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office Tuesday — including the fact there were more drug deaths than in 2016.

Deaths due to drug overdose “had a pretty significant uptick in one year,” said Dr. R. Ross Reichard, who heads the office. He was on hand to present his 2017 report to the Mower County Board of Commissioners, along with Monica Kendall, who heads up death investigations.

Reichard noted death due to drugs (or poison, which is recorded in the same category with drugs) had grown from two cases in 2016 to nine cases last year, easily outpacing the one death recorded in the motor vehicle accident category.

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Death came from use of illegal drugs, (three) a combination of drugs (four), or prescription medication (two).

Heroin/morphine and methamphetamines vied for the most-used drug in three instances each, with fentanyl and benzodiazepines (such as Valium) used in two instances each. Some of the number may reflect a mix of drugs in an incident.

Fentanyl “has become a real game changer,” in accidental overdoses, Reichard said, but added while use of methamphetamines might be overshadowed by the dramatic increase in opioid use, “methamphetamine has not gone away … and, until recently, was still predominant” in drug use.

Accidental deaths were led by falls, with 21 recorded in the county in 2017. However, as Reichard noted, the majority are falls taken by the elderly, whose resulting injury can contribute to illness — such as pneumonia—which often leads to death. Few were of the “slipping on the ice” variety.

Of the 288 deaths in the county last year, 247 came from natural causes and were led by cardiac (90) and cancer (51) cases. The biggest jump from 2016 came in cardiac cases. There were 71 cases in 2016 and 90 cases in 2017. Death from cancer, however, declined, from 60 in 2016 to 51 last year.

Overall, said Reichard, the results “parallels the other counties” covered by the office. They include Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties.

The office investigates sudden, violent, unexpected and suspicious deaths that occur in those counties, certifies deaths after investigation and postmortem examination, and issues death certificates as required by law.

Mower County began using the office’s services in 2016, ending the years-long practice of appointing a county coroner. The county adopted use of the medical examiner’s office due to its more specialize abilities.