MARION COUNTY — Homicides, overdoses, COVID-19, and natural death investigations are impacting the Marion County Coroner's Office, meaning it's all hands on deck.
So far this year, more than 150 people have died from violent crime — more than triple has died from overdoses.
Investigators are trying to keep up with death investigations.
"We're hanging in there," said Chief Deputy Coroner, Alfarena McGinty. "We've seen the most deaths that we've seen in probably 10 years or more. We've had our death investigation numbers increase over the last four years and it's a different pace of just trying to keep up with everything."
Indianapolis hit an all-time high record for homicides in 2021.
That, on top of overdoses and the influx of COVID-19 death investigations, broke the bank for the coroner's office.
The Indianapolis City-County Council stepped in to help with funding. McGinty says federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act were also given to the agency.
"We are in a better place than we were two years ago, but we are going to try and look at what happens after ARPA funds go away. How do we deal with strategically planning for if we are still in this position how are we going to fund staffing as well as pathologists as well as investigators?" said McGinty.
More staff was hired to not only keep up with death investigations but also work with law enforcement to identify trends from drugs found in toxicology reports.
"So that agencies like the CDC can compile all of that data across the nation, and identify where to input resources, as well as just contacting local DEA offices to identify specific drug markets, that they need to be on the lookout for DEA, FDA or the FBI," said McGinty.
The investigations average around $3,000. But McGinty says the money will eventually run out.
"We are still seeing a peak right now. Our numbers just in this year alone are more than they were last year with drug overdose deaths and death investigations. So, I can't see that that is going to decrease bu, strategically and financially, from an enterprise standpoint, even at the state level, how do we address supporting these efforts to identify these specific trends, these drugs, and then making it sustainable for our agencies to operate and function?" said McGinty.
Tony Ciriello, director of training and education for the Indiana State Coroners Training Board, says coroners' offices across the state are struggling to keep up.
"Coroners' offices traditionally in the state of Indiana are the lowest budget in any county, so any funds they get is a big factor," said Ciriello.
McGinty says now is the time to start planning so future investigations aren't hindered.
"It is almost scary that we've got another two years, so that we have the funds through 2024, that we specifically have earmarked for looking at these drug overdose stats from the state level as well as a local.
"What happens after 2024 if we're still seeing numbers increase? So, identifying what do we do? How do we address that? and that's going to be, you know, a lot of seats and people at the table to identify what the next steps will be," said McGinty.
The Marion County Coroner's office is also using some of its federal dollars to provide support counseling for grieving families.
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