In a refrigerator in the coroner’s office in Marion County, Indiana, rows of vials await testing. They contain blood, urine and vitreous, the fluid collected from inside a human eye. In overdose cases, the fluids may contain clues for investigators.
“We send that off to a toxicology lab to be tested for what we call drugs of abuse,” said deputy coroner Alfie Ballew. The results often include drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl or prescription pharmaceuticals.
After testing, coroners typically write the drugs involved in an overdose on the death certificate — but not always.
Standards for how to investigate and report on overdoses vary widely across states and counties and as a result, opioid overdose deaths are not always captured in the data reported to the federal government. The country is undercounting opioid-related overdoses by 20 to 35 percent, according to a recent study. Read more or listen at Side Effects.