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Opioid Crisis: How this Public Health Emergency Led a Medical Examiner to Quit the Morgue

October 18, 2017 in News & Products

What is the Opioid Crisis?

Prescription pain relievers like opioids are meant to help people by reducing pain. Doctors began to prescribe these powerful drugs and patients would take them accordingly. The New York Times released an article in October of 2017 about the "staggering 22 percent jump" in opioid deaths in the last year, which raises the question, why are we having a drug crisis?

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates.1

Now in 2017, deaths from opioid overdose have reached an all-time high. In the United States alone an estimated 90 people die per day from overdosing on opioids. This crisis has affected the people, the criminal justice system, the addiction treatment centres, the healthcare system, the social welfare of communities, the economic welfare of countries, and the morgues.

The Devastating Consequences of Opioids

There is a killer in Canada and the United States that is taking lives at a faster rate than morgues can keep up. Medical examiner Dr. Thomas A. Andrew knows better than most people how deadly opioids have proven to be.

Dr. Thomas Andrew, the chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, retiring Dr. Thomas Andrew, the chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, retired last month. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Dr. Andrew is the chief medical examiner of New Hampshire, or rather, was the chief medical examiner, until he decided to retire this year. After more than two decades in his practice he admits that the worst drug epidemic in history caused him to make a sharp career change. Dr. Andrew quit to pursue a divinity degree, and ultimately plans to minister to young people to stay away from drugs.2

How Do We Tackle the Worst Drug Epidemic in History?

It's now indisputable that opioids are highly addictive and killing people at accelerated rates. What are we going to do about it? It's easier to take a preventative approach to painkiller use. If possible, access to powerful opioids should be limited, doctors should prescribe opioids in smaller doses and require patients to refill prescriptions frequently instead of giving them access to large quantities at one time.

The Move Toward Preventative Lifestyle Changes and Drug-Free Treatments

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. 1

Many have argued that healthcare systems have started to use resources for chronic disease or overdose control rather than prevention. This implies that the problems are being covered with bandaid solutions instead of dealt with effectively before they lead to chronic illness or death.

It may be time to take a page out of Dr. Andrew's book. Instead of becoming comfortable in the system we are used to, we can start to question what the best way to address public-health epidemics is. Dr. Andrew believes that a deeper exploration to the driving cause of drug use and programs to address the person before they become an addict is key.

It Starts With You

We may not have the capacity to single handedly reverse an epidemic that has been increasingly worsening over a matter of decades. We can, however, address our own health needs in a healthy manner. We can make lifestyle changes before we reach for a quick fix. We can think hard about the consequences of drug abuse. We can teach our loved ones the dangers of powerful medications. We can make a change that starts with ourselves.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid Crisis. From https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-crisis
  2. Seelye, Katharine. As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue. From https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/us/drug-overdose-medical-examiner.html?emc=edit_th_20171008&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=68506707&_r=0
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