Maryland Funeral Directors: We're The "Last Responders" To Opioid Crisis

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Maryland Funeral Directors: We're The "Last Responders" To Opioid Crisis

By Victoria Kim 10/10/18

Funeral directors in the state claim that safety has become an issue when dealing with opioid overdose victims. 

Image: 
funeral directors standing in front of a hearse

Proactive funeral directors in Maryland are stocking up on naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, as they’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of opioid-related deaths.

They’re calling themselves the “last responders” to Maryland’s opioid crisis, the Baltimore Sun reports.

In 2017, the Tri-County Funeral Directors Association launched an awareness campaign in local newspapers to notify communities that “We Don’t Want Your Business” when it comes to opioid abuse.

“We see a side of this tragic epidemic that many don’t see,” said association president James Schwartz. “The devastation families are facing is heartbreaking.”

Schwartz tells the Baltimore Sun that other funeral home directors have known not only family members, but funeral home guests “who have come and had either an opioid reaction in the parking lot or other areas during the service time.” 

“This has caused the folks stress because not only are they grieving this person and now somebody else is having the same tragic result,” Schwartz said.

The National Funeral Directors Association urges members to protect themselves while handling deceased victims of opioid overdose.

“Coming into contact with a minuscule dose of fentanyl or carfentanil can be fatal,” the association warns. (This point is oft-repeated, but harm reduction and addiction/recovery advocates say it’s merely a harmful myth.)

“The opioid crisis presents unique challenges for funeral directors, from working with families whose loved one has died from an overdose to protecting themselves from harm when handling the body of an overdose victim during removal or embalming,” says the funeral directors association.

In 2017, opioid overdose deaths continued to climb in Maryland, accounting for the majority of drug/alcohol-related deaths—2,009 of 2,282 overdoses were opioid-related, according to the state's Department of Health.

“This is an escalating epidemic,” said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, whose city saw the worst of the opioid crisis. “But still we don’t even see the peak of this epidemic yet.”

In response, Maryland schools and libraries are also stocking up on naloxone. “The rule of thumb is: when in doubt, use it,” said funeral director Jeffrey L. Gair.

The antidote is there “if there’s ever the need while we’re on duty at the funeral home,” Gair said.

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