Orleans County coroner leading state association in combating opioid crisis
‘These are loved ones. They’re not just statistics. They are someone’s son, daughter, father or uncle. These people are individuals. Yes, they are drug users who overdosed, but they are people first. They are someone loved by others.’ – Scott Schmidt, Orleans County chief coroner
ALBION – An Orleans County coroner has pushed a state-wide association to sound the alarm over the opioid crisis.
Scott Schmidt, chief coroner for Orleans County, also serves as president of the NYS Association of County Coroners & Medical Examiners. That organization has partnered with the New York State Association of Counties in producing a public service announcement an ad, warning about the opioid crisis and giving a list of signs for loved ones to see if someone is suffering from addiction.
The new “See the Signs, Save A Life” campaign debuted last month with the PSA available to television stations throughout the state and also to be shared on social media.
“The rationale behind this PSA was simple: We as Coroners, Medical Examiners and Funeral Directors are tired of watching people die senselessly,” Schmidt said in a news release about the campaign. “While we aren’t on the front lines of this epidemic, (such as Fire and EMS personnel,) we are on the front line working with families in the aftermath as the last responders.”
In Orleans County, seven people died from opioid overdoses in 2017 and 224 people were admitted into chemical dependency programs last year from Orleans, Schmidt said Wednesday in a presentation to the County Legislature.
The county has 42,847 people, according to the 2010 Census. Genesee County, population 60,029, had nine people die of overdoses and 404 enter chemical dependency programs.
Niagara County, population 216,469, has about five times as many people as Orleans. Niagara had 88 die of overdoses, nearly 13 times as many as in Orleans, and 1,362 go into chemical dependency programs, Schmidt said.
Monroe County, another Orleans neighbor, has 744,874 residents, 17 times the population in Orleans. Monroe had 220 die from overdoses, more than 30 times how many died in Orleans.
Schmidt said the epidemic is leaving a death toll throughout the state and country. And many families didn’t realize their loved ones were using drugs.
“We are often the recipients of the overwhelming and often times heart-wrenching displays of grief and violent emotion because we are the ones with the answer that no one wants to hear,” Schmidt said. “‘Your loved one died of a drug overdose.’ The far-reaching effects of a drug overdose death are mind blowing.”
The Association of County Coroners & Medical Examiners wants to show the effects of lethal substances with an “in-your-face” approach, hoping to save lives, Schmidt said.
The crisis leaving victims as young as teen-agers to senior citizens, he said.
“It’s scary stuff,” he told county legislators. “It’s nothing to mess around with.”
He praised efforts of Orleans County Sheriff Randy Bower to expand treatment programs in the jail for addicts, and to develop a transition program so they have support when they leave the jail.
Local law enforcement has also been mapping overdoses to try to identify clusters where people are overdosing and dying, so law enforcement can concentrate efforts in those areas.
Schmidt emphasized that every person who dies isn’t just a number.
“These are loved ones,” he said. “They’re not just statistics. They are someone’s son, daughter, father or uncle. These people are individuals. Yes, they are drug users who overdosed, but they are people first. They are someone loved by others.”
Schmidt is a funeral director with the Christopher Mitchell Funeral Homes of Albion and Holley, the Merrill-Grinnell Funeral Homes of Albion and Holley, and the Bates, Wallace and Heath Funeral Home of Middleport. He has served as a coroner since 1990.
Lynne Johnson, County Legislature chairwoman, praised Schmidt for pressing the issue locally and throughout the state.
“The opioid crisis continues to devastate Orleans County,” she said.