Ohio county needs mobile morgue after string of fatal opioid overdoses

Posted at 2:37 PM, Mar 13, 2017

One Ohio coroner's office was so overwhelmed one weekend in March with fatal opioid overdoses they had to bring in an emergency portable morgue from the state.

Investigator, Rick Walters, told Cleveland-based WEWS the opiate epidemic is at least partially to blame. 

"The business is outgrowing the coroner's offices," Walters said. 

The 20-foot, white trailer may not look like much, but the Stark County Coroner's Office can properly store up to 18 bodies in it. 

As a small shop, their regular morgue holds eight bodies. 

"We ran out of space!" Walters said. "Then we got four more cases Saturday, so we were 50 percent above capacity." 

The coroner's office has already seen over 90 bodies this year, an increase of more than 20 percent. 

Heroin Costs


Ohio's heroin epidemic is problematic for them and several other offices statewide. 

"It has undone all of the coroner's offices," he said. "We are spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on toxicologies and we have to keep adding to that."

And, he said, if you think the epidemic isn't affecting you too, you're wrong. 

"Ultimately the coroner's office is funded by the taxpayer," Walters said. 

Mobile Morgues


If a coroner decides the number of fatalities exceeds local resources to store remains suitably, a temporary morgue can be requested, according to Ohio's Emergency Operations plans. 

They've been used in Summit, Ashtabula and Cuyahoga Counties.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, Melanie Amato, said they own four mobile cooling units, such as the one being used in Stark County. 

"The cooling units are available for various response needs that can be requested through the local and state emergency management," she said. "For example, they can also be used to store vaccine or other refrigerated pharmaceuticals when conducting mobile clinics in the field."

Walters said he hopes to be able to send the portable morgue back soon, but anticipates needing it again. 

In his 30 years of work, Walter said he never thought there would be a mobile morgue in the back. 

"And I've been through the drug problems before," he said.