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Measures to speed up toxicology reports pass unanimously

April 23, 2018 11:18 PM

Measures passed unanimously on Monday may help solve a problem that handcuffs police and keeps grieving families in the dark.

The problem? How long it's taking the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office to produce causes of death from drug overdoses. Monroe County leaders have revealed they have a 1,000 case backlog, and what should take three to four months has been taking eight.

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After all, families have a right to know why their loved one died, and police want to charge drug dealers with homicide. That's why the votes on Monday by the Health and Human Services Committee and then the Ways and Means Committee were so important. They'd allow the county to outsource some of the Medical Examiner's work, in the hope that it would get answers for police and families faster.

That would mean a lot for family's like Charlene's, in East Rochester. Just before Christmas, her son Brian died suddenly. His death certificated says "pending further investigation." 

She probably won't get a cause of death until summer. It is something that makes her wonder how important her son is to the system: 

"Sometimes it feels to me like... is my kid just a number? A number waiting to be pulled to come up next?"

The committees' votes could reduce the time that Brian and others like him are just statistics. The bill approved will let the Medical Examiner outsource cases that come in from surrounding counties, like Ontario, Livingston, and Wayne. The measure still needs to head to the full legislature for approval.

Tom Vanstrydonck is the Deputy County executive.

"We came to the conclusion that our principle obligation in Monroe County should be to the citizens of Monroe County," he says.

In other words, the only cases that will be outsourced to the private lab will be cases that Monroe County gets from the counties- about 250 cases a year.

The legislation contracts with National Medical Services for one year for $250,000. The outsourcing should speed up Monroe County cases, and help police and the DA's office prosecute drug dealers for homicide- such as those related to the 42 people who have died from overdoses already in 2018. 

"What we really need to do is get results on a timely fashion so that we can prosecute offenders," says District Attorney Sandra Doorley, "And this is a step in the right direction, I believe." 

However, the move wasn't completely without controversy. Monroe County is in such dire straights the measure had to be handled with urgency, and so it moved faster than Democratic Legislator Joshua Baruth would have preferred. 

"I think that we're taking a shortcut that we should not have done," he says, "I'm still going to vote for the referral because clearly it has to be done."

"It's not a question [of] should we try to get out of it. We have to. But how did we get here in the first place? I don't know the answer to that question. Part of it of course is we're having this crisis, but part of it is the systems we have in place clearly aren't able to handle this crisis... that's a problem."

Here's Berkley Brean with his story from before all the votes had been taken:

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