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Local health officials react to new death certificate law

OWEGO (WBNG) – This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law saying if a person dies of a drug overdose, the drug responsible will be named in the death certificate.

Local health officials at Tioga County Public Health say there are research benefits to this new legislation.

“This new law will hopefully give us more accurate data as far as our opioid overdose deaths,” said public health educator at Tioga Public Health, Kylie Holochak. “I think this could be a positive step. It’s not something that is going impact anything right away. Hopefully in a few years this might get the state clearer information on where they should be allocating funds whether that is bringing more funds into our county for prevention or treatment specifically.”

Health officials admit there are a few flaws that could make this data a bit harder to collect.

“When I’ve spoken with the coroner, a lot of times there is no specific type of opioid that kills an individual. It’s usually a mix of several different substances in someone’s system. So it might be pretty difficult to pinpoint which opioids are causing these overdoses,” said Holochak. “Sometimes when our coroner is looking at the toxicology results for a death. Sometimes what he might put on the death certificate when the state re-looks at it, it could actually be changing. So I know there are years that if we look at New York state data, there might only be a few overdose deaths but the coroner’s numbers may look a bit different from that.”

The health department says tracking the overdose deaths in this way could provide funding to counties in need of overdose prevention and addiction services.

“Maybe if the deaths are related to prescription medication we could do education more towards that. If we are seeing a fentynal spike in our area we really want to gear more education towards using Narcan,” said Holochak.

The legislation has immediately gone into effect.

Death certificates are not made public. They are only available to living family members and those with a lawful right or claim.

Tyler Brown

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