Local NewsCounty coroners feel weight of increased costs to investigate overdose deathsBy JORDYN REILANDEmailFollowAug. 25, 2017H. Rick BammanCaptionThe coroner's office ruled 43 deaths as overdoses this year by the end of July, as compared with 56 in 2016 and 43 in 2015. Not only are coroners across the state seeing more of their population succumbing to overdoses, the drugs themselves have become more complex. The suppliers who make these substances often are mixing them with other chemicals, creating a lethal cocktail, unbeknownst to their customers. "What the drug dealers will do is they'll start with fentanyl, and then they'll chemically alter the structure of fentanyl, and that's how they get fentanyl analogs," Majewski said. "At that point, the lab has to determine a new test to analyze that structure." Once a minor player in the drug crisis, fentanyl – about 50 times stronger than heroin – and synthetic versions of the drug, called fentanyl analogs, are directly linked to more and more overdose deaths each year.H. Rick BammanCaptionChina is the primary source of fentanyl in the U.S., according to a report released by the U.S. China-Economic and Security Review Commission. Some of it comes straight from China, while other shipments come in from China to Mexico or Canada before making their way to the U.S., according to the report. China exports a number of fentanyl products into the U.S., including raw fentanyl, precursors, analogs, fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription drugs such oxycodone, pill presses and other machinery for fentanyl production. In 2016, there were 12 fentanyl and four fentanyl analog deaths in McHenry County alone. Already this year, the coroner's office has reported six fentanyl and at least three fentanyl analog deaths. The analogs don't show up on standard toxicology tests, which means more testing often is required. Coroners firsthand are seeing the effects fentanyl and its synthetic versions have had on the illicit drug market as they affect their bottom lines. If Majewski suspects a synthetic opioid may be involved in a death, she has to add anywhere from $200 to $300 to what starts out as an estimated $185 drug screen. Coroners said they have to order these tests in an increasing number of cases.H. Rick BammanCaptionMajewski increased her toxicology budget to $25,000 for 2017 from $20,500 last year. She said she expects to at least reach this year's budget if not exceed it, estimating there could be at least another 15 overdose deaths. Two years before, the coroner's office spent more than it had budgeted for toxicology testing. The office had $19,455 budgeted for 2015 but spent $26,180. In 2016, the office budgeted $20,500 but spent $23,959. The total budget in 2016 was $535,128 as compared with $494,450 for 2017. "The toxicology lab is always one step behind the drug dealer, and those new tests cost money, which, in turn, cost the coroner's office more money," she said. At some point, Majewski said she might have to approach the county for more money to properly investigate these types of deaths. Despite the increasing costs, evidence from toxicology exams can provide the information coroners need to close a case, so being economical is not always possible. "[The tests are] critical to us being able to understand how someone died and to be able to understand what drugs we have in our county," she said.H. Rick BammanCaptionMcHenry County is not alone. Kane County Coroner Rob Russell has had to ask for a 17 percent increase in his budget to cover expenses associated with investigating overdose deaths. "It's becoming very costly," he said. Russell said his office conducted 198 total autopsies last year, and this year, it is on pace to do 210. Halfway through 2017, there have been 24 overdose deaths. In 2016, there were 46 overdose deaths. "We've restructured the budget as much as we can," Russell said. "I'm going to keep doing my job, and unfortunately, we just have to keep trying to budget for it." To balance the need for more comprehensive testing and the costs associated with them, Majewski said she has to look more closely at each case to determine what might be needed. "I'm really going to be very watchful at spending any money," she said. "We have to look at everything on a case-by-case basis and order the correct testing." WOODSTOCK – The overdose caseload is climbing in McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski's office these days. The costs to run her office are rising as well.