STANFORD — Lincoln County Coroner Farris Marcum’s office conducted 76 death investigations in 2010, 52 of which resulted from natural causes.
Among the 24 deaths considered unnatural, one category rose to a level of concern for Marcum, who felt compelled to bring the matter up Tuesday when he presented his annual report to Fiscal Court.
“What we’re seeing is an increase in prescription drug deaths,” Marcum told magistrates. “There’s an increase in Kentucky overall, and here in Lincoln County.”
Marcum said he investigated 10 drug deaths last year, compared to seven in 2009.
The majority of 2010’s drug-related deaths resulted from people taking an overdose of prescription medication that was not prescribed to them, Marcum said. In other words, most of the people who died from drugs last year in Lincoln County got them on the street or through some other illegal transaction.
Marcum said his office has begun working more closely with law enforcement to try to curtail prescription drug abuse.
As coroner, Marcum has the authority to seize any medication he observes as part of a death investigation, but he does not have the authority to search the premises like an officer who has a search warrant.
Any drugs Marcum seizes as evidence are later destroyed, he said. He makes it a practice of confiscating all of the medicine he sees that was prescribed to the deceased person so it doesn’t find its way into other hands.
“If it was prescribed to the decedent, they don’t need it anymore, and it doesn’t need to be in circulation on the streets,” he said.
Marcum began reporting his office’s activities to Fiscal Court last year at the behest of former judge-executive and longtime coroner Bill Demrow, who felt it important that magistrates and the public know what the taxpayer-funded office was up to.
“The coroner’s office has always operated behind the scenes and the public kind of shies away from wanting to hear too much about it. It’s a difficult job that nobody else wants,” Demrow said.
New Judge-Executive Jimbo Adams said he plans to have Marcum make quarterly reports to Fiscal Court because he thinks the information has value to magistrates and the public.
“It’s good information to have as a reference: where deaths occur and why,” Adams said. “If there’s a spike in drug deaths, we should know about it.”
Drugs weren’t the only killers in Lincoln County last year, of course. Marcum said his office also investigated seven deaths related to vehicle crashes and two suicides. There also were single deaths attributed to explosion, drowning, electrocution, fire and asphyxiation in Lincoln County in 2010.
In the asphyxiation case, Marcum said a man choked to death on a piece of a ribeye sandwich he had purchased from a fund-raising group that had set up shop at Walmart.