County Coroner’s annual report shows increase in deaths, workload

(COLIN HAFFNER/Chewelah Independent)

Deaths from accidents, drug overdoses, motor vehicle deaths, homicide and unknown causes were all down in 2017…

The annual statistical report released by Stevens County Coroner Lorrie Sampson for the 2017 year showed a nearly 75 percent jump in total deaths reported but a decrease nearly across the board in the tracked categories.

Numbers showed reported accidental deaths, drug overdoses, motor vehicle deaths, homicides and those with unknown causes were all down in 2017 compared to the reported deaths in 2016.

For drug overdoses, the drop continued what appears to be a downward trend over the past five years, Sampson said. Though she cannot be certain of the cause for the trend, Sampson says two factors could be the fact that local agencies are carrying Narcan, a nasal spray used for treatment of opioid emergencies such as overdoses, as well as increased tracking of opioids by the State of Washington.

One category that is seeing higher reported numbers in the county are suicides, which more than doubled from 2016 to 2017.

Sampson said an unfortunate trend she noticed, and has since begun tracking, in 2016 was the number of veteran (former members of the Armed Forces) suicides in comparison to the total suicides each year. Sampson says she cannot definitively note whether this is a newer trend as she has only been following the correlation since 2016, but the numbers show that veteran suicides account for nearly 50 percent of the reported suicides in 2016 and 2017, and the rate appears to be about the same to date in 2018.

Altogether, total reported deaths in 2017 were 217, up from 125 in 2016, and Sampson says that number is already around 165 in 2018.

Sampson said she is currently working on a ten-year spreadsheet to show the numbers and trends of deaths in Stevens County, which she thinks will also show the increase in workload for her as the County Coroner.

Each reported death, whether it is done in writing, by phone or any other method, warrants some investigation by Sampson as the coroner. Generally, Sampson said the follow-ups will help to determine if there is any reason the death was not natural and most will not warrant a full investigation.

Those that do warrant further investigation can take four-to-five hours for investigation at the scene and up to sixteen weeks from start to finish due to the wait for toxicology reports and examination of evidence, among other things.

And, while there are ten deputy coroners contracted to assist with the workload, Sampson points out that they are considered volunteers and cannot always assist when called due to their other work and obligations.

This means Sampson must be ready to go on all cases, a fact that led Sampson to request funding by the Stevens County Commissioners for a second full-time employee in the Coroner’s Office.

Sampson understands the commissioners could very well refuse the request but is hopeful they will understand the need based on the number of cases and a workload that continues to rise as the population in Stevens County grows and grows in age, evidenced, Sampson says, by the rising number of cases referred for evaluation by hospice care services.
Sampson said no matter what, she will continue to do what she can with the resources available.