Opioid crisis may be greater than once though because of under-reporting


You’ve no doubt heard a lot about the opioid epidemic, but one thing you may not know about is what some are calling the “other opioid crisis.”

It has to do with how coroners and medical examiners conduct investigations and report the exact cause of death.

A new study out of the University of Virginia finds opioid related deaths are vastly under-reported to the Federal government because not all coroners list the exact drug or combination of drugs.

In South Carolina there is no state standard requiring those specifics.
Nationwide, the latest Centers for Disease Control numbers show in 2016 there were 42,000 opioid related overdoses, but the study finds it’s like 20 -35% higher.  

Sam Quinones, the author of Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic, is speaking on reporting and other opioid issues this week in the Upstate. 

“What the opioid epidemic has shows is how weak and thin our death investigation system is,” he said.

One of his many concerns is the lack of detail on death certificates which leads to under-reporting. 
Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger says this past year his office has been working with the state to make sure drugs listed on death certificates are coded in a way that gets accurately reported to the federal government.

“First concern was lets get it straightened out, lets make sure we’ve got something going on that we’ll get them reporting it correctly,” said Clevenger.

Accurate reporting helps show the extent of the problem.  For instance in Spartanburg county alone, opioid overdoses have more than tripled in the last 4 years.  And Fentynal has jumped from 4 cases in 2014 to 20 last year.

That’s why Clevenger aims to list specific drugs on death certificates.

But other offices like Greenville say right now if a mixture of drugs is to blame that certificate won’t list them all.

“If you don’t have that information, you don’t know something has happening when you should know it, and it’s not been fully funded, and that’s largely because nobody thinks coroner’s offices are sexy enough to fund,” said Quinones.

Bottom line: Better reporting can lead to more funding for programs that help curb the problem. 

And that’s one of many things the author will be speaking about Monday nigh at the Chapman Cultural Center, and tomorrow w in Greenville at Furman University. 

Here are the details: 

“The South Carolina Medical Association Alliance will be presenting Sam Quinones, award-winning author of DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic as a featured speaker on Monday, March 26, 2018 from 6-8 pm at the Chapman Cultural Center, Spartanburg SC and Tuesday, March 27, 2018 from 6-8 pm at the Furman University Trone Center, Watkins Room. The event is free to the public. The event is free to the public. Sam Quinones is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and author of three books of narrative nonfiction. DREAMLAND recounts twin stories of drug marketing in the 21st Century: A pharmaceutical corporation flogs its legal new opiate prescription painkiller as nonaddictive. Meanwhile, immigrants from a small town in Nayarit, Mexico devise a method for retailing black-tar heroin like pizza in the US, and take that system nationwide, riding a wave of addiction to prescription pills from coast to coast. The collision of those two forces has led to America’s deadliest drug scourge in modern times. Sam Quinones is a former reporter with the L.A. Times, where he worked for 10 years (2004-2014). He is a veteran reporter on immigration, gangs, drug trafficking, the border. Books will be available on site and are currently at Hub City Book Store.

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