It can take up to two months for a toxicology screen to be completed following the death of an individual. Chief Medical Examiner Diane Peterson, M.D., with the Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Office, hopes to cut that time to 10 days with new equipment that was purchased with a $155,000 grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Drug Overdose Crisis Funding grant, received in February and administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), is part of a nationwide push to advance understanding of the current opioid overdose epidemic. According to the CDC, more than 63,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. Of those overdose deaths, around two in three involved a prescription or illicit opioid.
Dr. Peterson says $100,000 was used to purchase a new computer software system that will allow the medical examiner’s office to quickly report autopsy data to the KDHE to better track causes of death in Johnson County. This data helps public health officials understand the extent of the opioid problem in Johnson County, focus resources where they are needed most, and evaluate the success of prevention and response efforts.
The remaining $55,000 went toward reducing the cost of a new in-house toxicology testing instrument that will detect low concentrations of illicit drugs and prescription drugs and how much of the drug(s) was in a person’s system when he/she died. The equipment will allow the Medical Examiner’s Office to complete toxicology testing in-house within days, instead of outsourcing it to another laboratory where it could take weeks to get results. Dr. Peterson says once the toxicology is done she can sign death certificates and the autopsy report, which helps law enforcement to determine if a crime occurred and the family is able to obtain death benefits from insurance.
“Lots of things are waiting on my report," Dr. Peterson said. “The faster we can issue it, the better.”
The new Medical Examiner’s Office is scheduled to open in June 2020, and is located at the Johnson County Government Campus, on Sunset Drive, in Olathe