Washoe County Medical Examiner: Deaths have ‘nearly tripled’ in last decade | SierraSun.com

Washoe County Medical Examiner: Deaths have ‘nearly tripled’ in last decade

The number of deaths in Washoe County is on the rise.

The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner's Office presented its first statistical report to the county's board of commissioners during its regular meeting on Aug. 7.

"Our total deaths reported for the last decade have nearly tripled," said Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner Dr. Laura Knight in a presentation to the board.

There were 4,253 cases reported to the medical examiner's office in 2016, compared with 3,819 in 2015, according to the report.

“More men than women tend to come to the attention of the medical examiner, for whatever reason. I’ll leave it to you to decide. A lot of the deaths that we deal with are violent deaths, risk taking related deaths, and that does tend to affect the male population more.”Dr. Laura KnightWashoe County Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner

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Knight's presentation showed that there were only 1,718 death reports in 2007, and that figures have increased roughly 10 percent annually ever since.

The statistics don't just include Washoe County, though. The Washoe County Medical Examiner's office also provides services to 13 other rural Nevada counties and five in Northeastern California.

Knight said the increases could be attributed to a number of factors.

"We do have an increasing population, that's obvious, as well as an aging population," she said. "We tend to have more deaths then a younger population might."

The size of the region's indigent and homeless populations are also reasons Knight cited, while explaining the increasing number of death reports to the board.

She added that drug trends and the suicide rate are also contributing factors, but said that since the region also has a trauma referral center there may be deaths attributed to accidents in other areas that are reported in Washoe County.

The number of examinations conducted by the medical examiner's office increased in just about all categories, excluding those classified as undetermined.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of examinations that were determined to be natural deaths increased 13 percent. The number of examinations ruled as suicides jumped 24 percent between 2015 and 2016, and the number of homicides increased 12 percent. The number of accidental deaths also rose 11 percent, but the number of underdetermined deaths actually decreased 34 percent.

"More men than women tend to come to the attention of the medical examiner, for whatever reason. I'll leave it to you to decide," Knight said. "A lot of the deaths that we deal with are violent deaths, risk taking related deaths, and that does tend to affect the male population more."

In 2016, 70 percent of the examinations were on male patients, while females only made up 30 percent, according to Knight's presentation.

Of the 88 transportation-related cases examined in 2016, 26 percent, or 23 deaths, were pedestrians. The majority of transportation deaths, 56 percent, were of motor vehicle operators, followed by motor vehicle passengers, which made up 14 percent of transportation-related cases. There was only one death of a bicyclist.

As far as drug-related deaths go, the county medical examiners office counted 110 deaths in 2016, compared with 133 in 2015.

"While 2016 did see a decrease in the overall drug deaths here, and probably due to the removal of some prescription drugs that were on the black market here, we are still seeing a significant problem with illicit drugs," Knight said.

The number of deaths attributed to prescription-only drug use has gone down from 65 in 2015 to 43 in 2016. Deaths related to the use of methamphetamine and heroin remain steady, Knight said.

Forty-six people examined by the county medical examiners office died from methamphetamine use in 2016, up slightly from the previous year, which saw 43 deaths. Heroin deaths also increased, from 13 in 2015 to 16 in 2016.

There was also an increase in the number of deaths from combining prescription drugs with illicit ones, from 11 deaths in 2015 to 19 in 2016.

Of the 24 homeless individuals examined, 23 were male and one was female. Most of the county's homeless deaths, at 46 percent, were determined to be accidental. Natural causes followed at 38 percent.

The report also states that in 2016, 11 people died while in jail, four of which were determined to be from natural causes and three were suicides. Two were victims of homicide, one was accidental, and one was undetermined.

Both homicides were due to methamphetamine intoxication and physical restraint or struggle, according to the report, and the accidental death was determined to be the result of drug toxicity or withdrawal.

Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at arhoades@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2653. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @akrhoades.