“It’s just nonstop,” says Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger. “We’re seeing the same tragedy over and over again.”
The coroner’s office, which covers Dayton, Ohio, and 30 surrounding counties, is now taking in an average of 10 bodies per day. Harshbarger estimates 65 percent of the dead are victims of drug overdoses. Their capacity of 42 is stretched to the limit — and as overdoses surge, the coroner’s office has had to rely on auxiliary storage for the dead at local hospitals, nursing homes and even refrigerated trucks rented overnight.
The Dayton Daily News reports that overdose deaths in Montgomery County have almost tripled since 2010, jumping from 127 deaths to 355 in 2016.
Though their morgue was remodeled in 2016 to add capacity for 12 additional bodies, it’s not enough. Darkly, Harshbarger says the facility anticipated increased demand, spurring the renovation. They now have no more room to build storage in the building — and if bodies keep accumulating, he says they’ll have to ask for a new building.
He told the Dayton Daily News they were “at a critical point,” and if mortality trends continue, “[they’ll] have to investigate a new physical structure. That’s a big ask.”