RICHMOND, Ky. (WKYT) - What are coroners expected to do with legal drugs after investigating a death? Even county coroners don't know.
There is a Kentucky law that says coroners are entitled to take in their possession any evidence or anything or anything they believe contributes to cause and manner of death, which would include medications and narcotics. However, after a coroner's investigation is complete, there's no law saying how a coroner is supposed to dispose of the drugs.
"There could be issues. Absolutely there could be issues. You have the availability without question," explained Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison. Cornelison told WKYT's Miranda Combs that a lot of people don't realize that when it comes to a death investigation the coroner is the highest law enforcement authority at the scene. "So we can take anything and everything we want to take. We don't have to have maybe a search warrant that police have to have because we're doing a death investigation. It's different," he explained.
"It's just come to our attention that the coroner now has possession of these narcotics," explained Henry County Coroner and Kentucky Coroner's Association Legislative Liaison James Pollard. "We've got 120 coroners, so we have to come up with a plan that's not only going to dispose of these narcotics, but it's also going to protect the coroner." He said coroners also take narcotics at the request of the family, or in some cases, because the coroner knows the family or friends will take the drugs.
Pollard went on, "We feel like what we need to do now is get a piece of legislation put together."
Combs asked, "Are we opening a can of worms with this?"
Pollard replied, "It may be a good can of worms to open up. And that way, let's get everybody covered, protect everybody."
Pollard and other coroners have started writing a draft of a law to require coroners to follow the same protocol to dispose of medications and narcotics.
Cornelison already has a protocol for his office. After the medications are counted and logged, the labels are torn off the bottles and they are taken straight to a DEA drop box. There are 178 boxes in Kentucky, in almost every county. "I'm not sitting here saying that people are doing things wrong, but if you don't know if you're doing them wrong, or if there's a better way to do it, we don't know what it is right now."