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How the Opioid Crisis Is Affecting Members of the Funeral Services Industry

The current opioid crisis may be affecting people all over the country, but it’s hitting especially hard here in New Hampshire. It is well documented that New Hampshire has the second-highest rate of overdose deaths per capita. According to data recently collected by The New York Times, “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.” The same data referenced above suggests that “Drug overdose deaths in 2016 most likely exceeded 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.”

According to the Summit County, Ohio medical examiner’s chief investigator, Gary Guenther, drug related deaths claimed 312 lives in 2016. That’s almost 50% more than in 2015, and over 3 times that of cases from 2 years prior. Guenther stated that, due to the large number of drug deaths in 2016, “on three separate occasions the county had to request refrigerated trailers to store the bodies because they’d run out of space in the morgue.”

A Nationwide Epidemic

Ohio isn’t the only state with a drug overdose issue. According to the CDC, “The five states with the highest rates of death linked to drug overdose were West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000), Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000), Ohio (29.9 per 100,000), and Rhode Island (28.2 per 100,000).”

However, the drug epidemic is not just affecting those addicted and their families. Those who work in the funeral services industry and those who work closely with victims of drug overdoses need to be extremely careful when handling the bodies of the deceased.

A Dangerous Job

Two very dangerous substances that funeral service workers may come in contact with include fentanyl and carfentanil. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.”

Another synthetic opioid often used to cut or replace heroin, and is even more dangerous than Fentanyl, is carfentanil. According to the DEA, “is reportedly 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.” And, “based on its potency, carfentanil can be lethal to humans at the 2mg range depending on the route of administration among other factors.”

A recent incident where an Ohio police officer overdosed after coming in brief contact with a synthetic opioid has raised concerns among those working in the industry. The police officer reportedly touched a small amount of the synthetic opioid powder with his bare hand, in an effort to wipe it off of his uniform. It was determined later that the powder was fentanyl, and that it had been absorbed through his skin.

The Ohio officer survived the accidental overdose because he received four doses of Narcan from on-site emergency responders. Because of this frightening occurrence, local funeral homes have begun to develop better safety measures to help funeral service workers who may encounter similar situations.

Playing it Safe

Funeral service workers are put in a scary situation knowing how easy it is for anyone who comes in contact with even a small amount of these substances to overdose. Protocols are being put into place to prevent this. Some funeral service workers are wearing protective gear, from latex gloves, to full protective suits, respirator masks, and more. Some states are going even further, and classifying drug-related deaths as a crime scene, with the police department arriving well before the funeral director to investigate the scene prior to anyone else coming in contact with the body.

Phaneuf understand the seriousness of the issue, and we take the safety of our staff very seriously. The funeral home has received information from the State Medical Examiner’s Office, as well as from the National Funeral Directors Association as to specific protocols, and we are dedicated to following them strictly. All of the funeral home’s vehicles are equipped with special equipment, face masks, and entire hazmat gowns if need be.

President and Licensed Funeral Director at Phaneuf, Buddy Phaneuf, stated, “We are trying to better communicate with first responders, the police and the Medical Examiner’s office, so that our staff can be better prepared when arriving at the scene when there is increased potential for danger.”

Preplanning your final arrangements ensures that your family understands your final wishes and alleviates a great deal of stress.

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