BOC Hears Medical Examiner Update
Clare One of Top Counties in State Selected for Opioid Surveillance
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
HARRISON – At the December Clare County Board of Commissioners meeting, Lisa Kaspriak, administrator for the Mid Michigan Medical Examiners Group, provided commissioners with an update on the Medical Examiner’s Office. Kaspriak said her group has served Clare County for a little more than four years.
She reminded the Board that there is a definite need for a forensic scientist.
“If anybody knows any kids that are wanting to go through college and make half the amount they would by going into hospital medicine, let me know,” Kaspriak said. “They could go into forensic pathology.”
She said her group is close to hiring a forensic pathologist for the morgue, but that it takes a special person.
“Overall, our cases are down,” she said. “However, the complexity of our cases is actually up, so that is warranting the extra autopsies we had this last fiscal year versus the previous fiscal year. That is aside from the two homicides, but homicides aren’t necessarily that complex.”
Kaspriak said the Medical Examiner’s Office is continuing to work well with law enforcement, funeral homes and the public. She also said hours have been increased for a staff which includes two administrative assistants, a chief investigator and an assistant chief investigator, which she said makes her office “very strong going forward.”
She also noted that Clare County made the top counties in Michigan recognized for opioid surveillance.
“There were 14 out of the 83 counties identified for having severity in that,” Kaspriak said. “And the government is releasing grant money to survey it. So not necessarily going to help us with it yet, but the first step in any prevention is taking lots of data.”
She said the normal statistics she would fill out for them would be increasing and would continue to increase.
Kaspriak said that for the second consecutive year the life expectancy rate of Americans has gone down.
“That is largely due to not only suicides, but the drug abuse,” she said. “What you’ll see in your report is that drug abuse is sometimes listed under ‘Accident’ if they didn’t mean to do it and it was an accident if they had an accidental overdose. However, it will be listed in the ‘Natural’ category if they were simply on many different drugs that fell within the normal range of taking that drug. So, you can overdose from a drug or simply have too many mixed together, and that’s called mixed drug toxicity. Both are due to drugs, however, they will be annotating it in your report in two different categories.”
Kaspriak said drug reports will continue to get more and more complex as they must now be completed based on new standards. Also noted was that fentanyl use has been increasing, and that in Clare County her office is seeing a lot of cocaine as well.
“At the national conferences, the toxicologists explain how one tiny little poppy seed-size of carfentanil, for example, is so much stronger than the drug users realize,” she said. “So, unbeknownst to them, they take something very small and very dangerous.”
She also said her office has been quite busy due to the aforementioned efforts to secure a forensic pathologist.
“It’s no small feat that we’re going over there to open a morgue and have a morgue running,” Kaspriak said. “There are approximately 450 board certified forensic pathologists in the United States. That’s not a lot, and that’s down from 500 just two years ago.”
That reduction in the number of qualified forensic pathologists is being accompanied by an increased need for their services. Kaspriak said that increase is due to the opioid crisis gripping this country. She cited the difficulty of luring those professionals away from preferred locales into service in rural communities.
“That’s why it’s been so long in hiring a forensic pathologist,” Kaspriak said. “But we believe we have the perfect person. He has ties to Michigan. And not only does he have northern Michigan roots, but he’s a great teacher; he loves to teach.”
She went on to say that the prospective hire also envisions going into community colleges and universities to inspire students who have an interest to come and simply explore forensic science.
“I really love that he wants to invest that,” Kaspriak said. “And that will help our state as a whole.”
She said that adding the forensic scientist will help make a difference for the people who have suffered the loss of the deceased.
“All of the people in this community who come through our office have experienced a tragedy that they weren’t expecting to happen,” Kaspriak said. “It’s the unexpectedness. We’re just hoping that we can make that a little bit easier for them to get through, and make the process smoother and cleaner, and of course not miss anything.”
She added that her office is fortunate to work with local law enforcement.
“You have a great team,” she said. “From your prosecutor group to your law enforcement, your funeral homes. It is definitely a pleasure working in and for Clare County. I can tell you it’s one of the shining stars out of the seven counties that I serve.”