The Buchanan County Medical Examiners Office has seen a rise in autopsies performed this year, with a substantial number due to drug overdoses.

In just one month, 14 autopsies were done at the office when typically there are three or four.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase is drug overdoses. Dr. Adam Wineinger, the Buchanan County Medical Examiner, said 2021 started at a very concerning rate, although now the numbers are starting to go down.

“For the first four months of the year, we had 34 autopsies. And then from May to August, which represents the next four months, we had 14. So there, there certainly was a big increase in the first four months. I went back and looked at the drug overdoses, and in those first four months, from January to April, we had 11 drug overdose deaths. Since then we’ve only had two. So it looks like the majority of our increased autopsy rates was from drug overdose deaths,” Wineinger said.

According to Buchanan County Auditor Tara Horn, the $85,000 yearly budget for autopsies already has been surpassed by about $15,000. If there is an unattended death, an autopsy is required. Finding the money for these services is not an option. Horn said the county has been able to find money to continue funding autopsies, but if the numbers continue to spike they may need to look into reserve funds.

The uptick in overdoses is something local law enforcement officers have been working hard to combat. With cases now falling, Capt. Shawn Collie with the Buchanan County Drug Strike Force said he believes their efforts may be working. Officers know what to look for and want people to continue watching for concerning pills.

“During the last year or so we’ve seen an increase in overdoses with some overdose deaths, which, obviously, is probably one of the things we’re trying to prevent the most. And so we’ve been working a lot in trying to educate and get information out within the community,” Collie said. “One of the things we’re seeing is what’s called M30 pills ... blue pills with an M and 30 on them, that are a fake or a knockoff of oxycontin, and they actually are fentanyl. And we’re seeing several overdoses with that, and then with a fake Xanax that is fentanyl as well.”

Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said he’s watched the strike force as well as St. Joseph Police Street Crimes officers working tirelessly to fight these drugs. He said he sees the decrease as a very good thing, but community support still is needed to fight the problem.

“On our side, we’ve been aggressively pursuing the criminal enforcement of drug investigations and seizures and trying to do as much as we can. But you know, part of it is that we have people that are using illegal drugs and they’re overdosing,” Puett said. “This needs to be a holistic approach in our community to try to get people into treatment or whatever process they need to stop that. And obviously, we’re going to aggressively pursue the criminal prosecution of drug dealers and the seizure of illegal drugs coming in our community.”

Wineinger said he does not expect reserve funds to be needed for the year as long as there isn’t a spike similar to the one in the spring.

“We’ve gotten great support from our county commissioners, and they know these things sometimes go up and down. It looks like the numbers are coming back down. I think overall for the year, we’re going to be above average, but not as much as we thought we were going to be back in April,” he said.

International Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31. Buchanan County Addiction Help Now will be hosting an event at 5 p.m. at Civic Center Park to educate the community and remember those lost to addiction.

Morgan Riddell can be reached at

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