Mahoning County coroner short on morgue space

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – In the wake of some Ohio counties running short on morgue space because of the heroin epidemic, 33 WYTV News wanted to find out how our local counties are dealing with the issue.

Having already seen a several-fold increase in overdose deaths this year compared to previous years, the staff at the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office said they are at capacity for handling bodies.

Deputy Coroner Dr. Joseph Ohr said there have already been more than 20 deaths in the county since January where drug overdoses are suspected; most of them involving heroin or other opiates. That’s roughly a third of all the cases he’s seen and compares that to just a handful in the two previous years.

“We are scrutinizing our cases very closely as to which cases we all fully autopsy,” Ohr said. “We have the ability to store nine people. Having said that we do have alternative sources.”

One of those alternatives would be local hospitals, which may be able to hold bodies for a few extra days if the coroner runs out of space. But in nearby Canton, officials have turned to the state for help.

Staff with the Stark County Coroner had to borrow a mobile morgue trailer from the Ohio Department of Health after their facility, which can hold the remains of eight people, ran out of room.

The twenty-foot trailer can hold up to 18 bodies at a time. It is one of four units the Ohio Department of Health purchased in case of mass casualty emergencies. They can be loaned out for free if counties request them.

Ohr said the local office has not reached the point where it needs to use the trailers, but other counties in Northeast Ohio such as Cuyahoga County have used them in the past.

“They’ve warned us not send them any of our overflow because they are at max as well,” Ohr said.

The shortage of space is a tragic sign that the heroin epidemic isn’t declining.