Mississippi’s Overdose Deaths Could Overwhelm Crime Labs, Beg Reforms

Mississippi's Overdose Deaths - Could Overwhelm Crime Labs Beg Reforms

Every state has its attractions and Mississippi is no exception. From mouthwatering food like delicious Gulf shrimp and sweet potato pie to the glory of Ole Miss, the state has no shortage of traditions to be proud of. Not to mention the beauty of the Mississippi River herself, one of the world’s longest rivers, which has provided sustenance and transportation for centuries.

Unfortunately, despite these proud traditions, Mississippi like many other states has succumbed to the scourge of drugs that is plaguing the U.S. overall. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017 Mississippi providers wrote 92.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. Compared to the average U.S. rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people, Mississippi far exceeds the average. Based on these statistics, Mississippi ranked in the top five states for opioid prescriptions in 2017.

Overdose Deaths in Mississippi

Consistent with easily available drugs in the state is the rising number of deaths that can be attributed to those prescription opioids, as well as to heroin and cocaine laced with fentanyl. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports:

  • The biggest increase in opioid-related overdose deaths was seen in cases involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (mainly fentanyl): an increase from 24 deaths in 2014 to 81 deaths in 2017.
  • There was an overall increase in deaths involving heroin from 10 in 2013 to 34 in 2017.
  • In the same period, prescription opioid-involved deaths rose from 66 to 96 deaths.

As reported in Mississippi Today, specific counties with increases in their overdose deaths include Hinds County, with overdose deaths more than quadrupling, rising from six in 2016 to 27 in 2017. In Harrison County, overdose deaths more than doubled from 12 in 2016 to 26 in 2017. Mississippi’s Gulf Coast region and Jackson metropolitan area had 33 and 52 deaths respectively, in 2017.

Overdose Deaths Could Overwhelm Crime Labs

Across the country, 70,000 opioid-related deaths were not reported between 1999 and 2015. Mississippi is one of the states in which incomplete death certificate reporting remains a problem. The issue with improper recording of overdose deaths is that it hampers public health officials from understanding the extent of the problem, where the most need is, and thus allocating much-needed resources to specific geographical areas in the state.

The crime labs in Mississippi have been overwhelmed for years. Multiple counties are required to send their autopsy requests to only one lab, with a backlog that is sometimes as long as a few months. Adding to this confusion is the ever increasing number of overdose deaths, many of which are not even being counted because the labs are understaffed and overworked.

In Alcorn County, as reported by Corinth Today, overdose deaths have happened but have not been reported to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. The Alcorn County coroner says this is due to a backlog at the state crime lab, where it can take months to get a report back.

Reform in Mississippi

Multiple reforms have been put in place in the state to avoid these rising overdose deaths, specifically prescription opioid-related deaths, and to get resources to those who need it. As of 2017, according to the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy stated that “if your prescribing habits are causing overdose deaths, we’ll come find you,” (meaning that the MBN is now looking at the prescribing habits of doctors, and those who prescribe opioids could be liable if a patient develops an addiction to opioids). This could dramatically affect how doctors prescribe medicine, decreasing how often opioids are prescribed.

Another reform put in to place, according to a more recent Clarion Ledger article, is getting rid of the ban on those with drug felonies and their ability to qualify for SNAP benefits. This will hopefully help those with prior felonies get the resources they need and lower the rate of re-offenders.

In 2018, Mississippi tightened up its procedures for investigating drug overdose deaths. The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics announced that officials would respond to every suspected opioid death in the state. This serves two purposes: to assist overwhelmed medical examiners and coroners in tracking overdose deaths, and to help quickly identify the source of illegal drugs. Knowing where the drugs are coming from helps officials stop the trafficking of those drugs.

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