CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Attorney General’s office wants to hire another medical examiner to help deal with New Hampshire’s spike in drug-related deaths.
The state’s two full-time medical examiners have taken 486 cases this year, putting them on pace to exceed professional guidelines on the maximum number of autopsies pathologists should perform annually, Chief Medical Examiner Thomas Andrew said. Most of the backlog is due to drug overdose deaths, which are expected to top 500 this year. The Attorney General’s office is asking for money to hire a third examiner as part of the next two-year state budget.
“They are simply at a pace they cannot continue,” Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice told state budget writers Monday.
New Hampshire’s drug crisis has been the center of policy discussions in Concord for the past year. Deaths began to spike in 2014 from heroin and, more recently, the synthetic drug fentanyl, which is far more powerful.
The medical examiner’s office is facing such a backlog that Andrew has 60 open cases and is just now working on cases from July, he said.
He said the department risks getting placed on probation by accrediting organizations, given the size of the backlog. Losing accreditation could jeopardize outside funding or diminish the credibility of the office’s work, he said.
“It’s a worthwhile investment if (lawmakers) value the public health and safety of the citizens of New Hampshire,” Andrew said. “If it’s not a priority so be it, but you get what you pay for.”
The Attorney General’s office requested $137,000 for a new associate medical examiner. Rice told budget writers that New Hampshire “grossly” underpays its medical examiners compared to other states.
Thomas made $154,000 in 2015, according to the state. By comparison, Vermont’s chief medical examiner makes $184,000 and Massachusetts’ makes $286,000 annually, based on available state data.