- Cullman, Alabama

May 20, 2014

EDITORIAL: A state dying from drug use

The Cullman Times

— Alabama coroners, with the power to order and log results of  toxicology reports, hold the key to important information for families and law enforcement officials.

Whether the toxicology reports are ordered is discretionary among coroners when a death occurs. When those tests are not ordered or entered into data bases, families and law enforcement agencies may be missing out on valuable information concerning drug-related deaths and trends with illegal or abused substances.

What coroners list on a death certificate can affect survivors’ life insurance or offer insight to authorities on emerging drug trends. Alabama needs a uniform standard for coroners to follow so that this information is regularly recorded.

One problem facing coroners in ordering toxicoloy reports is the backlog of cases with the state toxicology lab. The wait can go on for months.

Blount County Coroner John Mark Vaughn, who serves as chairman of the Alabama Coroner Association’s training commission, has been pushing for coroners across the state to adopt toxicology analysis as an indispensable tool for death investigations. The reasons behind Vaughn’s push are solid.

In Alabama, the prescription drug overdose rate was 13.1 deaths per 100,000 deaths in 2008, which is higher than Mississippi (10.6) and Georgia (9.5), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alabama also had among the highest number of prescription painkillers sold in the nation at 9.7 killograms per 10,000 people in 2010.

According to the national statistics, deaths from painkillers were above cocaine and heroin combined.

Alabama has a drug problem. The reports from law enforcement agencies and national agencies is pretty clear about that fact.

The coroners need a standard practice in place that requires toxicology reports. If the state is burdened under a backlog, simply outsource the job to private companies and help families and law enforcement understand and address the drug problem in Alabama.