GBI: rise in overdose deaths drives morgue expansion

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The Georgia Bureau of Investigation needs to expand its morgue and the dramatic rise in overdose deaths is partly to blame.

The GBI broke ground in September on a $6.5 million expansion project that will increase the agency’s storage capacity from 30 bodies to more than 100. The agency is responsible for handling autopsies for 153 of the state’s 159 counties.

“Unfortunately we are in a state right now where we have just plain run out of space,” said Nelly Miles, GBI spokeswoman. “Every single day the number of cases that we get into our morgue facility is growing. So, we’re in a position right now that if a coroner wants to bring a body and a case of a deceased person here, we’re having to tell them in a lot of cases, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the space to hold that individual.’”

GBI medical examiners perform 20 to 30 autopsies each day and a significant number of them are drug overdose cases.

“We’re talking those pain relievers, heroin, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, prescription pills in general—they’ve just been an issue and so with the increase in opiate overdose death means the increase in autopsies,” said Miles.

In 2010, the GBI handled three heroin overdose cases. That number exploded to nearly 70 in 2015.

State lawmakers approved part of the funding for the project last year. Now, as part of the state budget process, the GBI has requested more money to help complete it and outfit the building with furniture and equipment.

Miles said the additional space will mean that loved ones should not have to wait as long for answers. The autopsy is also a critical step for families who need to collect benefits.

“This part of the process, when someone loses someone and they're grieving—it’s very important for closure for this to take place and expanding the morgue facility will give us the opportunity to give dignity to that family so that they can have closure for that loved one,” Miles explained.

If lawmakers approve the additional funding, the facility should open in the fall of 2017.

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