WILLIAMSPORT, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — With the opioid epidemic happening throughout the region, the death toll continues to rise.
It’s gotten so bad in Lycoming County there’s not enough room left in the morgue. Lycoming County Coroner Chuck Kiessling tells Eyewitness News it was at least 10 years ago or more when he started asking the county to bring his office into one location.
Right now, it’s spread out with his office space on one side of town and the morgue and garage facility are also separated. But still, 10 years later and no changes have been made.
“Now’s the time. We need to do this. We need to move into a facility that will meet all of our needs,” Kiessling said.
The death toll is rising in Lycoming County and space is running out at the morgue. Just last year there were 39 drug deaths. In 2020, so far, the number is already nearly up to 10. And the cause? The opioid epidemic.
“Unless things really settle down, we’re heading for a record year of death investigations from the drug standpoint,” Kiessling said.
“It had got bad where you’re starting to worry about walking on these streets at nighttime,” Robert Moore of Lycoming County said.
Kiessling says he’s seeing high levels of fentanyl and other prescription drugs coming back in the toxicology reports.
“Those cases all require the deceased to be held until the autopsies are scheduled. We have to hold decendents sometimes for three, four days, sometimes for couple of weeks,” Kiessling said.
It’s in part why he’s asking for a new building. There’s also concern the coroner’s office is exposed to some of these drugs and ultimately those working there could end up bringing those materials home with them.
“We don’t have a facility where staff can come back and shower and leave those contaminents,” Kiessling said.
“He is actually using car washes to wash off contamination that he used to wash off at home. Bodily fluids and blood which isn’t healthy,” County Commissioner Scott Metzger said.
A feasibility study was completed in 2012 with a price tag of $5 million to $6 million for a building.
“And where does that funding come from? I’m not sure,” Kiessling said.
“There is money built into the budget currently. It’s just finding the best suitable building,” Metzger said.
Metzger also says within the five weeks he’s been in office, this is an issue that is of high priority and he has dedicated every week to scoping out locations.
Kiessling says he would like to get the ball rolling on this by next year.