The body of John Back, 67, from Bridgeport, Connecticut, spent 8 months in the chief state medical examiner’s morgue, even though he had a girlfriend and family who could have taken his remains.
Back’s situation, as recounted by the Connecticut Post, is not unique.
There are an estimated 40,000 unclaimed bodies nationally stored in morgues, sixwise.com reports. It is a situation that coroners and others fear could become worse because of the opioid epidemic and financial constraints on states trying to deal with growing numbers of unclaimed bodies.
States ranging from Connecticut to California have been trying to find ways to deal with the financial and practical burdens of disposing of the unclaimed deceased residents, some of whom are homeless without anyone to take their remains or family members who don’t want to pay for them to be buried or cremated.
In Los Angeles, on November 19, 2016, 1,400 unclaimed bodies were buried in a mass grave, the Los Angeles Times reported. Twenty-five were babies who died at birth or had a disease that killed them. Los Angeles County does this mass burial every three years.
In Connecticut, State Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill said he gets one or two unidentified bodies a month. Currently, there is one in his morgue, he said. The bodies are usually stored at the medical examiner’s facility in Farmington. The unclaimed bodies fill a cooler in the building, which was added last year to accommodate extra corpses.
With an opioid overdose epidemic now going on, officials in Connecticut and other states are expecting the situation to worsen.
Budget constraints are complicating the situation of the transporting and holding of the unclaimed bodies in Connecticut. It takes $300 to transport an unclaimed body to the medical examiner’s office, and Connecticut cut Gill’s budget by 11 percent, the Hartford Courant reported. That has meant that cities and towns have to pick up the cost of paying for transporting and disposing of the unclaimed bodies.
In California every year, Los Angeles Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas deals with hundreds of unclaimed bodies a year. Lucas said in an interview with C-HIT that land is hard to come by in Los Angeles because it’s expensive and most people can’t afford funerals, so most cremate bodies or don’t even come to claim them.
The number of unclaimed bodies has also risen because, he said, “The population is aging.”
The state coroner’s office is accountable for the unclaimed dead in California, and the state must pay to dispose of the remains.
Both Gill and Lucas said that the disposal of unclaimed bodies will continue to be a problem as the opioid and drug overdose epidemic continues to grow.
Sofia Rositani is a student at Wilby High School, Waterbury.