CLEVELAND – The opioid crisis in Northeast Ohio is changing how those who provide afterlife care do their jobs.
Not only are they seeing more overdose deaths, but each one brings its own unique challenges that could leave funeral home staff and their guests at risk.
From accidental exposure to powerful drugs to fights breaking out during a service, it’s the new reality for those who consider themselves the last responders to this deadly problem.
Funeral homes are now forced to change with the times.
The National Funeral Directors Association is recommending that its members across the country train their staff on how to recognize signs of an overdose and make sure they’re also prepared to administer naloxone.
For so many, the search for that next high costs them everything.
“We see the end result here at the funeral home. It’s shattering families,” said Mark Busch.
Busch, co-owner of Busch Funeral Home, sees nearly a half dozen overdose deaths every month.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Busch.
Right now, some funeral homes are not taking chances and are implementing a naloxone protocol.
“It is something we are considering and evaluating at this time,” said Busch.
Busch said there’s growing concern in his line of work as he watches this crisis escalate.
“I’ve had colleagues of mine that have had overdoses occur within their funeral homes,” said Busch.
Guests at memorial services for a friend or family member who overdosed may turn to the same drugs that killed their loved one.
“That’s the unbelievable power and grip of this drug that it can’t be broken by someone just seeing they’ve had the death of their friend,” said Busch.
Busch said the ruthless cycle of overdoses knows no bounds.
“We’ve not only buried and or provided services for one member of a family, but we’ve provided services for another member of the same family,” said Busch.
Exposure to dangerous drugs is not the only safety threat surfacing. Those who are among the mourners could also lead to trouble.
“It’s a different dynamic that I would not expect a funeral home to be faced with during the course of my career,” said Busch.
In many overdose deaths, Busch sees angry, divided families, leaving funeral home staff in the middle as tensions rise.
“We become an arbitrator, a mediator. One side of the family over here – the other side of the family over here,” said Busch.
As a steady stream of grief-stricken families come in, Busch has grown frustrated.
“It is a crisis that I still do not believe is being adequately addressed,” said Busch.
Meanwhile, Busch is brainstorming ways to help turn the tide, even floating the idea of having recovery teams outside services for people who overdose.
“Anybody that was faced with an addiction that needed treatment could have walked out to the parking lot and been taken to a recovery center,” said Busch.
The National Funeral Directors Association just received a $17,000 grant to roll out four new social media PSAs that funeral homes will soon be using to raise awareness about the overdose crisis and other stigmatized deaths like suicide.