New Hampshire Bulletin has a good piece about how a shortage of pathologists means that only half of overdose deaths in the state get an autopsy. The full story is here.
Why is an accurate cause of death so important? Death certifications have public health and data collection implications. The cause of death can also be critical for families and loved ones, for historical documentation, and for financial reasons, as well. For deaths certified as COVID-caused, for example, families were eligible for up to $9,000 through FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance program.
The autopsy crunch wasn’t always so dire. Prior to the opioid crisis, there used to be fewer than 200 drug deaths a year in New Hampshire and all of them would be autopsied.
The same has happened in other states. According to a 2018 Department of Justice report, on average, medical examiner offices nationwide were performing autopsies in just 38 percent of deaths investigated.