Opioid epidemic puts county coroner over budget

By Steve Frank

/ CBS News

The opioid epidemic has claimed so many lives in a suburban Chicago county, the coroner says his office is running out of money.

Opioid-related deaths have nearly tripled in Kane County in recent years, surging to more than 70 in 2018. Coroner Rob Russell told CBS Chicago that some days he's had so many bodies, he's had to transport some to nearby DuPage County for storage.

Russell says his office he can't afford to autopsy them without an increase in his $1.06 million budget. He's requesting an additional $149,352 to cover 2018 expenses.

Many Kane County officials believe the spike in overdoses is tied to a lack of treatment options.

"When I hear that, I say 'of course.' Accessibility to treatment. If you are poor in these counties or anywhere in the state really, treatment isn't available to you," said Nate Lanthrum, clinical director at Lighthouse Recovery, an outpatient substance abuse treatment program.

The newly-elected county sheriff said fighting opioid addiction is a priority.

"Two months ago I walked into the jail and realized we didn't even have Narcan," Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said.

Hain said he has since stocked the jail with Narcan, a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. But without an effective treatment program, he said most of the people addicted to opioids return to using when they get out.

"To not have a medically-assisted treatment in-house in the jail is a catastrophe," Hain said.

Deadliest drugs 21 photos

That's changing in February when Lighthouse Recovery plans to begin offering medication-assisted treatment in the jail.

Lanthrum said opioid addiction shouldn't be seen as a legal issue but a public health crisis. He says the cost of social resources, police calls, ambulances, hospital staff and even the cost of the coroner's office all ends up affecting the entire community.

"If you don't think this is affecting you, then you're not paying attention," he said.

First published on January 11, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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