Wright medical examiner report includes troubling trend

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

Every year, Wright County Medical Examiner Dr. A. Quinn Strobl presents her annual report to the Wright County Board of Commissioners. The purpose of the report is to have a historical record of the numbers of deaths in the county, as well as the manner of death.

At the March 11 meeting of the county board, Strobl presented her report, which included an increasing trend that is being seen nationwide – an increase in the number of deaths due to heroin overdoses.

“There were a total of 441 deaths that were investigated by the medical examiner’s office 2013, an increase of 17 percent over 2012,” Strobl said. “Of those 441 deaths, 178 were registered hospice patients and 126 of those deaths – 28 percent – required a scene investigation.”

Among the deaths in Wright County, nine were the result of accidental motor vehicle crashes, a drop of four from 2012. There 27 accidental deaths that didn’t involve motor vehicles. Of those 17 were the result of elderly residents who died due to complications due to injuries sustained in falls. But, more troubling were the numbers associated with heroin use.

“Seven deaths involved substance abuse,” Strobl said. “Three of them – ages 22, 24 and 28 – had used heroin. Three people ages 45, 46 and 57 misused prescribed medications. Finally, a 53-year old man died of alcohol toxicity.”

The growing trend of increased heroin use has been a nationwide epidemic, which some attribute to addiction to prescription pain killers like Oxycontin. The prescription drug is often habit-forming and, when refills of the prescription medication aren’t available, heroin provides a similar opiate affect and the reports of people being arrested in possession of heroin is on the increase. The death numbers, while small, are a sign of increased usage because heroin overdoses were extremely rare in Wright County and the ages of the victims is a sign that a new generation is discovering heroin and becoming addicted. While heroin is viewed as more of an urban drug, Strobl said that numbers are growing nationwide, both in populated areas and rural communities.

County Attorney Tom Kelly praised the work of Strobl and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office that serves several counties. He said the professionalism and thoroughness of their autopsies and research has made his job easier in terms of explaining to juries or judges exactly what caused death and how it happened.

“I’ve worked a number of cases in which we’ve needed the medical examiner,” Kelly said. “We used to have a county coroner, which didn’t provide the same level of expertise. It has made our job much easier because Dr. Strobl is a forensic pathologist and can lend her expertise to us.”

In other items on the March 11 agenda, the board:

RECEIVED an update on County Assessor Greg Kramber, who was involved in a significant car crash March 2 and was in critical condition for several days. It was said that Kramber is making a strong recovery and, while he still has a long way to go, he is showing positive signs in recent days.

HEARD the annual report from Cathleen Gabriel, who handles child protection cases for the county. In 2013, she oversaw 55 child protection cases – and increase of 57 percent from the 35 cases in 2012. In 2008, the State Legislature mandated that counties take over CHIPS cases and the county hired Gabriel to handle that function for the county. The 55 cases in 2013 was a significant increase and the most such cases since the county was assigned jurisdiction starting in 2009.

SET the date for the annual board of equalization for 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, June 16. If more time is needed, an extended hearing time was set for 11 a.m. following the June 17 board meeting.

REFERRED, at the request of Commissioner Mark Daleiden,  to the building committee discussion of potentially selling the equipment inside the county’s mothballed compost facility. Daleiden pointed out that the equipment inside the facility has no practical use to the county.

APPROVED filling the Office Manager I position in the Human Services Department. The position coordinates building activities for the department and supervises five employees. Sue Elletson, the current office manager, gave notice of her retirement effective April 1.