Pandemic, violent crime and overdoses increase demand for autopsies in Manitoba


The demand for autopsies in Manitoba has increased by 20% over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in violent crime and the growing number of fatal overdoses.

Manitoba medical examiners now perform about 1,800 autopsies a year, up from 1,500 a year two years ago, Manitoba Shared Health said in a statement.

That’s partly because of the pandemic, as more people are dying at home rather than in hospital and therefore requiring forensic investigations to determine the cause of death, Shared Health said.

A rise in drug-related deaths is also fueling demand for autopsies, the provincial health organization said, as is “a higher incidence rate of police cases in recent months, which are prioritized over other autopsies.

A record 407 Manitobans died from overdoses or other drug-related causes in 2021, the province revealed earlier in April.

Increased demand has exacerbated a backlog in performing autopsies, Shared Health added, noting that staff absences due to COVID-19 infections and vacations are also a factor in delays that will take two to three weeks. to clear.

Grieving families remained on hold

The time it takes to notify grieving family members of the cause of death can be much longer, especially for people who died of a fatal overdose, said Arlene Last-Kolb, founder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba and member of the board of directors of national advocacy group Moms Stop The Harm. .

“Families are waiting between a year and a year and a half,” said Last-Kolb, who lost his own son to an overdose in 2014 and speaks on behalf of other grieving parents.

“We might have an idea that a child or loved one died of an overdose, but we won’t know for sure what caused that overdose.”

Last-Kolb said getting autopsies done quickly isn’t just important for the purpose of giving families closure. The province needs to know how many overdoses are happening in order to formulate the appropriate policy response, she said.

His group is lobbying the province to ensure that people who use non-medical drugs have access to a safe supply free of highly toxic chemicals like fentanyl.

Demand for autopsies is on the rise in Manitoba

The demand for autopsies in Manitoba has increased by 20% over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in violent crime and the growing number of fatal overdoses. 1:57

Shared Health said it has hired two more forensic pathologists to help reduce the backlog of autopsies – one to fill a vacant position and the other to increase the total staffing of one position, to seven pathologists in total.

The province has also hired a new autopsy technical assistant and is training another, Shared Health said.