King County medical examiner’s office is struggling to store bodies amid rise in fentanyl overdoses

SEATTLE — The King County Medical Examiner’s Office says its morgue is running out of space to store bodies, partly due to a rise in fentanyl-related deaths, according to the Director of Public Health for Seattle and King County.

“A key indication of just how bad things are at the end of 2022, and likely to get worse in 2023 – the Medical Examiner’s office is now struggling with the issue of storing bodies because the fentanyl-related death toll continues to climb,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, the county’s public health director, during a King County Board of Health meeting last week.

There’s a set amount of space in the coolers the Medical Examiner’s office uses, and the limit is being reached regularly, according to Khan.

Khan says it’s an issue seen in major metropolitan areas across the country.

“The rise in fentanyl nationally and locally over the past few years has led to a much more dangerous drug supply,” said Kahn. “Fentanyl has increased the risk of overdose and death, even from taking one pill or using a small amount of powder. It is now involved in 70% of King County overdose deaths, as of December 2022.”

Health officials are working to address the issue by increasing access to care and providing more treatment options to people with substance abuse issues in the county.

But, that work will not be able to make a significant difference without “sustained and significant funding” from the federal government, according to Khan.

Based on the information provided in last Thursday’s meeting, it is unclear what the Medical Examiner’s office plans to do if they have more bodies than there’s space for.