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EPC Coroner's annual report delayed due to COVID-19

Deaths involving fentanyl double from 2018-2019
Coroner's report delayed due to COVID-19; Rise in Fentanyl related deaths
Posted at 12:59 AM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 08:51:44-04

EL PASO COUNTY — The El Paso County Coroner is working with El Paso County Public Health to help protect the community against COVID-19, because the virus is the top priority at the moment. However, around this time of year is when the coroner's office would typically publish their annual report, which contains important information related to public health.

While the Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, is out of his normal office, the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Emily Russell, is in charge. Dr. Russell said the pandemic has delayed their annual report until June at the earliest, depending on what happens with the virus.

News5 asked about any trends noticed from 2018-2019 in regards to accidental drug-related deaths. The total number of those deaths remained steady, but Dr. Russell said they are evolving into different drugs. For instance, deaths related to only heroin went down from 22 to 8. However, the number of deaths due to fentanyl being combined with other drugs doubled, going from 11 deaths in 2018 to 23 in 2019.

Other notable trends Dr. Russell mentioned included auto-pedestrian accident deaths going down from 19 to 8, homicides decreasing from 56 to 35, and drownings not recorded as happening at all in 2019.

Dr. Russell also explained how COVID-19 has impacted their office, saying most coronavirus related deaths do not come through their doors. While there has not been an increase in autopsies because of the virus, Dr. Russell, investigators, and support staff have had their workload increase. "We had at least one case that was reported to us as positive, but it wasn't. And so, we've been working to clarify those issues, so that we're reporting as accurate numbers as we can to public health, and they're doing their own follow up," said Dr. Russell.

She also said most COVID-19 related deaths are reported to them through phone calls from hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care facilities, and even catching some while reviewing death certificates.

Learn more about the 2018 El Paso County Coroner's Report:
Breaking down the 2018 El Paso County Coroner’s report