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Fatal Drug Overdoses Increased Last Year, Following Two Years Of Decline

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Rick Bowmer
/
AP

On today’s program: Allegheny County’s chief medical examiner talks about trends in the recently released total number of fatal overdoses from last year; and two mothers tell their experiences in cleaning their homes after losing children to fatal gunshot wounds.

Deaths due to drug overdoses increased last year
(0:00 — 7:01)

Last week, Allegheny County reported the number of deaths from accidental drug overdoses in 2020 was 689, an increase of 125 deaths compared to the previous year.

“Fentanyl now predominates in all of the mixtures, and remember all of these overdoses are [attributed to] mixtures,” says Allegheny County chief medical examiner Dr. Karl Williams. “Very rarely do we get a single drug accounting for the overdose. They’re all mixtures of two, sometimes up to seven or eight different drugs in the mixtures.”

Williams says there was a steady annual increase in deaths due to drug overdoses before the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in 2018 saying life expectancy in the U.S had declined as a result, but as of January 2020 it was starting to rebound.

“Once we get a handle on the pandemic, it’s gonna be the long standing drug overdose epidemic that’s gonna be with us for a longer period of time, I’m pretty sure,” says Williams.

Crime scene cleanup can take a financial and emotional toll for families
(7:03 — 18:00)

In the first three months of this year, there have been more than 300 reported incidents of violent crime in the City of Pittsburgh. For families and loved ones that lose someone, they are left to deal with the aftermath and sometimes shoulder the cost, and that doesn’t just mean a funeral.

After evidence is collected, clean up of the scene of the death on private property is left to the owners, who are sometimes the loved ones of the deceased.

Denise Marks experienced this firsthand when she lost her daughter, 20-year-old Emily Marks, to suicide.

“So the coroner came and it was a long, seemed like a really long process, but they did take her body away,” recalls Marks. The next morning, she says she went outside, where her daughter died, and saw blood and other tissue still on the ground.

“I was shocked, I thought they would have cleaned that up, or taken that away, but they didn’t,” says Marks. “I went into ‘Mom mode’. I knew my family was coming, I didn’t want my husband to see this.”

Marks says she cleaned it up herself. “I think it was so traumatic, I just felt like I relived the whole thing again.”

Marks says she or her husband were never informed that they could call a clean up service=. Had she known, she would have called.

“Something should have been given to us regarding counseling services, regarding the clean up, there was no information, nothing left with us,” says Marsk. “There was more than enough opportunity for them to sit down and talk with us, and that didn’t happen.”

Edith Khoury says she also was left with little support after her 37-year-old son was killed in her home.

“When we walked into the house, it was a crime scene. There were the EMS’s little badges that they put on your heart, their purple gloves and other medical paraphernalia spread all over the dining room,” says Khoury. She says blood in her kitchen was caked onto surfaces.

“My son and my brother wanted to help me clean and I wouldn’t put them through that,” says Khoury. “Nobody told me what to do, I didn’t even think to turn it into insurance, I knew that if there was a service, I couldn’t afford it.”

One local clean-up service told The Confluence it could cost up to $1,500 to take care of a crime scene.

“They need to have something in place so when this happens, there’s phone numbers, there’s counseling services,” says Khoury. “Have a packet or something.”

The City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Moon Township police and public safety departments all said while there is no formal policy to inform families or loved ones about the existence of crime scene cleanup services, anecdotally, officers and detectives will inform people of clean up services.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
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