Is More Specific Drug Overdose Death Data Worth the Cost? - KOAM TV 7

Is More Specific Drug Overdose Death Data Worth the Cost?

Joplin, MO -

A lawsuit filed by Missouri's attorney general against three pharmaceutical companies cites data that some people say needs to be more accurate.  Attorney General Josh Hawley announced yesterday that his office is suing the pharmaceutical companies for allegedly misrepresenting the addictiveness and risks of their pain killer medications.  Hawley said, "The opioid death rate in our state is 160 percent of the national average."

A local mom who lost her 22-year-old son in November to prescription drug abuse believes there's an even worse problem in the state.

Growing up, Destin Shryock was part of some statistic in one way or another, like all other kids.  Several years after a picture, shown to the side of this story, was taken of Shryock in grade school, his mom, Kathie England-Hinds, says he now belongs in a lethal overdose statistic.

"He knew something was wrong with him, but he couldn't stop," says England-Hinds.

England-Hinds remembers being in the shop she owns in Joplin and getting a text message from Destin that read...

"I won't do anything that will hurt me because I love my family too much.  And he asked me if I was mad at him," says England-Hinds.

Three days later, England-Hinds found Destin dead at home.  She knew her son struggled with hydrocodone abuse in the past and had her suspicions.  Accidental overdose was the cause of death listed on Destin's death certificate.  

England-Hinds wanted more detail.

England-Hinds says, "Knowing, even, that he died from an overdose, OK, what was it?"

"We really don't try to figure out which particular drug or narcotic," says Jasper County Coroner Rob Chappel.

Chappel says most of the time, he and other coroners in Missouri may interview family members, or look at the environment where a deceased person was found, to determine whether or not there was an accidental overdose.  Running toxicology reports and sending blood to an outside lab to figure out what drug was the killer costs his department money.

"It's hard to put value on life.  You can't.  But it comes down to, it all does cost money," says Chappel.

Chappel says his county taxpayer-fed budget can't afford several toxicology tests.  He says he doesn't have accurate statistics of how many local prescription overdose deaths he's recently seen.

But he does see a growing problem that needs more attention and balancing within his budget for more toxicology reports.

"That's something I'm wanting to work on," says Chapel.  "I'm starting to increase the number I send off."

England-Hinds pushed for, and ended up getting, toxicology reports on her son through the coroner.  Results showed a lethal dose of fentanyl, a drug England-Hinds wasn't suspicious about.

"I want them to track it," says England-Hinds.

England-Hinds wants Destin's death certificate to list fentanyl, hoping her son will be part of statistics specifically supporting fentanyl abuse awareness.

This weekend, coroners from across Missouri will meet for a convention in Jefferson City.  One of the topics discussed will be the need for more specific toxicology testing, and somehow getting more money for those tests.


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