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Coroner Luck: Deaths down, overdoses up

Fulton County Coroner Margaret Luck presents her 2018 year-end report to the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The numbers of death cases investigated by the Fulton County Coroner’s Office were down in 2018, but local authorities remain concerned about deadly drugs such as fentanyl being laced inside marijuana.

Coroner Margaret Luck presented her year-end report to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee Monday at the County Office Building.

“Overall, in 2018, our caseload was down by nine,” the coroner said.

Fulton County’s total coroner cases declined from 139 in 2017 to 130 in 2018. But total drug-related overdoses rose from seven in 2017 to 10 in 2018.

“The manner is determined by autopsies,” Lock said.

Manners of death in Fulton County in 2018 were: 108 — natural causes; 11 — accident; eight — suicide; one — homicide; and two — undetermined.

The types of drugs involved in the deaths in Fulton County were broken down this way in the report: mix prescriptions — eight; alcohol — six; heroin, cocaine and marijuana — four each; fentanyl and oci/hydrocofone- — three each; and anti-depressants — two.

She said these drugs were present, but may not have been the direct cause of death. The report indicated drug overdoses are the number nine killer in the United States.

Luck reported to the committee that the bottom line for drugs and alcohol is: “We do have that type of problem here.” But when asked by supervisors, she said she’s not sure how Fulton County compares to other counties. Some of New York’s coroners don’t keep as thorough statistics as her office does and she’s not sure if 2018 statistics are available, she said.

When it comes to death investigations, Luck stated: “Marijuana seems to be in everything, like alcohol.”

Luck said some people have died with marijuana being in their systems, but fentanyl is inside the marijuana. She said this is a “concern” not just for this area, but all areas.

“In my opinion, we still have a drug epidemic,” said Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter.

Potter said he appreciates the detail the coroner put in her report, so legislators can “see what’s going on in our area.”

Elsewhere in the report, Luck went over budget figures for her office, noting the majority of it — $70,063 — was spent on professional expenditures such as autopsies, toxicology and physician work.

“I do my best to keep the budget as low as possible,” Luck said.

Other money is spent on items such as office supplies, members, training travel and payroll.

Another part of the report listed coroner duties such as taking responsibility for personal effects after removing the body from a scene in a dignified manner, providing families with information, and working with the county emergency planning agency. Community activities by Coroner Luck and Deputy Coroner Sherry Brown include being a representative on groups such as the Child Abuse Investigation Team, participation in mock disaster drills, and hosting in-service for emergency responders.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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